Advocates gather more than 25,000 signatures to replace MCAS graduation requirement

Advocates gather more than 25,000 signatures to replace MCAS graduation requirement

Proponents of replacing the MCAS exams as a high school graduation requirement have announced that they have gathered twice the number of signatures needed to have the question placed on the November ballot.

The ballot question asks voters to replace the MCAS requirement with certification by local districts showing that a student has mastered a set of competencies, skills and knowledge aligned with the state’s academic standards. Districts must certify both that the coursework meets state standards and that a particular student has satisfactorily completed the work.

This is the second time that Massachusetts voters have enthusiastically endorsed the ballot question. In the initial round of required signature gathering, proponents collected 135,000 names on petitions. This week, with 12,500 certified signatures needed to advance the petition, public education advocates announced that they will deliver more than 25,000 new names to state officials for certification.

Shelley Scruggs, of Lexington, is one of the original organizers of the statewide campaign to change the graduation requirement.

“I knew there were many parents who, like me, believed that the MCAS graduation requirement is not a valid measure of our students and presents an unfair hurdle to hardworking students, like my son, who do not perform well on standardized tests,” Scruggs said.

Susan Greco, an instructional assistant at Doherty Middle School in Andover, observed: “People couldn’t sign the petition fast enough.”

“People became emotional, telling me how they had struggled to pass the MCAS, or didn’t pass the MCAS,” Greco said. “Many people think this isn’t an issue in a district like mine, but it is. I bumped into two students I had in middle school who are now in high school, and they are worried about passing. It’s awful because they’ve worked really hard. There’s so much stress because of this high-stakes test that it comes all the way down into kindergarten.”

Massachusetts Teachers Association Vice President Deb McCarthy said that the narrow graduation requirement does not accurately capture a student’s ability to master the academic skills set by the state’s academic standards and curriculum frameworks.

“Massachusetts has excellent academic standards and excellent educators,” McCarthy said. “This ballot question will allow school districts to determine that a student has the knowledge and skills necessary to graduate and holds everyone to the same high standards. For a variety of reasons, students can struggle to pass the MCAS yet still be meeting local graduation requirements. Denying a student a diploma based on one standardized test is an injustice.”

Joy Ahmed, a parent in Ashland who gathered signatures for the ballot initiative, agreed, saying that her son does not do well on standardized tests, yet works hard to do well in school.

"You need to look at all of the work a student does. To deny a diploma to a student who shows up every day and puts in the work is just not fair," Ahmed said.

Replacing the MCAS graduation requirement is long overdue, said MTA President Max Page. Districts will continue to use the MCAS as a diagnostic tool but will have greater freedom using the state’s academic standards and curriculum frameworks to meet the diverse needs of our student population, Page said.

“Massachusetts is one of the few states left using a standardized test as a graduation requirement. Other states with high-performing public schools have abandoned the flawed practice,” he said. “Keeping our high standards and eliminating the high stakes attached to one test will be a tremendous benefit to every student as our schools will be able to focus on all of the creative ways our educators can use to teach students.”