Action needed on MCAS reform bill

The Massachusetts Legislature's Education Committee will take up MCAS bills Tuesday, January 8, at 1 p.m. in Room A-1, according to Citizens for Public Schools.

A number of MCAS bills were heard by the Committee on June 5, 2007, including H. 561, Rep. Carl Sciortino and Sen. Pam Resor's bill to reform MCAS. CPS understands that the Education Committee chairs, Rep. Pat Haddad (D-Somerset) and Sen. Bob Antonioni (D-Leominster), will be recommending that H561 be sent to  "Committee Study." That would effectively kill the bill and send the message that the Education Committee is not interested in discussing this important issue.

It is crucial that calls be made to Rep. Haddad's office asking for her support of H561 and, if she is not ready to support the bill, that she recommend the bill not be voted on now, but be held until the committee can discuss it fully.

Contact Rep. Haddad at 617-722-2070 before the 1 p.m. hearing and ask her to support H561, the MCAS reform bill.

About the bill

An Act to Enhance the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System to Ensure that all High School Graduates meet the State's Standards (The MCAS Reform Bill - H561)

Lead Sponsors: Representative Carl Sciortino and Senator Pam Resor
Co-Sponsors: Rep. Frank Smizik, Rep. Alice Wolf, Rep. Tom Sannicandro, Senator Pat Jehlen, Senator Cindy Creem, Rep. Denise Provost, Rep. Ben Swan, Rep. Doug Petersen, Rep. David Linsky, Rep. Sarah Peake, Senator Steve Tolman, Rep. Ruth Balser, Rep. Mike Rush, Rep. Matt Patrick, Rep. Willie Mae Allen, Rep. Steve D'Amico, Senator Harriette Chandler, Senator Dianne Wilkerson, Rep. Kay Khan, Rep. Liz Malia, Rep. John Keenan, Rep. Pam Richardson, Rep. Tom Calter, Rep. Tom Conroy, Rep. Kathi Reinstein, Rep. Alice Peisch, Rep. Christine Canavan, Rep. Paul Kujawski

The 1993 Education Reform Act called for a system of multiple assessments to determine whether or not a high school student had reached a sufficient level of competence to earn a diploma and graduate. However, when the Board of Education began to implement the new standards, it developed MCAS instead: a single set of high-stakes tests requiring a minimum passing score for students to graduate from high school.

While the MCAS has been an important evaluation tool and a key part of broader efforts to invest in and improve our public schools, the use of the standardized tests as a must-pass graduation requirement has contributed to unintended consequences, including:

  • Increased drop-out rate and lower graduation rate
  • Narrowing of curricula and "teaching to the test"
  • Inflated scores that don't reflect real learning
  • Extreme pressure on students to perform on high-stakes exams
  • Decreased motivation to learn
  • Diversion of school resources away from non-tested subjects/activities
  • Ignoring important student strengths that standardized tests do not measure: creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and diligence

What This Bill Does:
1. Directs the board of education to create a High School Graduation Requirements Committee which will be given the responsibility of developing a multiple assessment system to determine student competence. The committee will consist of 31 members appointed by organizations representing a wide spectrum of affected parties and educational authorities.

2. Ensures that multiple formats and measures be used to gauge competence, and provides for students who do not meet minimum standardized test scores the opportunity to offset their scores with other measures of performance.

3. Provides that, until the committee develops and implements the new graduation requirements, no student shall be denied a diploma for failing to obtain a passing score on the MCAS.