MCAS Test Not Needed for Juniors to Graduate
This year's high school junior class will not need to take or pass MCAS tests in order to graduate, under a change approved Tuesday by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The move is one of a series of pandemic-influenced shifts the state has made within its standardized testing program since COVID-19 first shuttered school buildings last spring.
Students are typically required to pass 10th grade English and math MCAS exams in order to demonstrate competency in the two subjects and graduate. Last year's 10th graders, the class of 2022, did not have an opportunity to take those tests last spring because education officials obtained a federal waiver and legislative approval to cancel the spring 2020 MCAS administration in the early days of remote learning.
Juniors will still be able to take the test in the spring and next fall to pursue scholarship opportunities, but the board voted to modify graduation requirements for the class of 2022 to allow those students to demonstrate competency in math and English by completing a relevant course instead of earning a passing MCAS score.
The change, which board member Matt Hills described as a "very narrow, tailored approach" affecting one class and one component of the exams, cleared the board unanimously.
"I think we're as far as we need to go, and I hope this is the end of the modifications to MCAS," Hills said.
Darlene Lombos, the board's labor representative, and Jasper Coughlin, its student representative, both said they'd like to have additional conversations about MCAS testing.
"During this year when it's really easy for students to feel cold and to feel that there aren't people at higher levels looking out for them, I think this is exactly the type of thing that shows students that we're caring about them," said Coughlin, a Billerica Memorial High School student.
The pandemic's disruptions to schooling have renewed debates about the role of standardized testing, with teacher's unions and some lawmakers calling for the MCAS to be canceled this year, and the Baker administration describing the exams as a key tool for gauging where students may have fallen behind while learning remotely.
Ed Lambert, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, wrote to the board on Tuesday voicing a position that members of the class of 2022 should still be required to take the MCAS even if they are not required to earn a certain score to demonstrate competency.
Lambert said that past years' passing rates suggest 85 percent or more students would achieve what would normally be considered a passing grade, and crossing that threshold would allow them "to know their diploma is of equal weight to those of previous classes of graduates."
For other students, Lambert said, their scores would provide information that could be used "to create an Educational Proficiency Plan for their final year of school designed to assist them in meeting the essential standards prior to graduation."
Board member Martin West suggested that schools encourage students to take the test, both for a chance to qualify for scholarships and to "learn about where they stand, relative to the expectations that we as a board have laid out for them."