MCAS graduation requirements questioned

Sep 26, 2023

Even as Wareham's MCAS results have come back positive, both residents and the School Committee are considering petitions to eliminate the test’s graduation requirements — in part or in whole. 

The School Committee had an opportunity to vote on MCAS requirements at its meeting on Thursday, Sept. 21. The committee voted to examine biases in the MCAS system, and discussed some of the flaws in the current MCAS system, but did not vote to remove it altogether. 

The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, MCAS, measures students' academic success.. Students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 10 take both English and Language Arts and Math exams, while only students in grades 5, 8 and 10 take the science and technology exams.

Students must earn a passing score on the English Language Arts test and the Math text, and one of the high school Science and Technology/Engineering tests, to graduate high school. 

The Massachusetts Teachers Association, one of the groups opposed to MCAS requirements, claims that the high stakes nature of the test affects teachers and students alike, making it harder for teachers to teach and students to learn. 

The Teachers Association along with other advocates are circulating petitions to get MCAS removal on the ballot for voters to decide. The state Attorney General's office lists two separate petitions opposing MCAS among the ballot initiatives filed for the 2024 statewide election. 

Individuals have in recent weeks individuals have weeks collected signatures for those petitions in Wareham and the surrounding communities, asking area residents to add their voice against MCAS requirements, according to posts in the Matters of Wareham Facebook group. 

The vote held by the School Committee concerns a different type of proposal. 

Wareham belongs to the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. Each school chooses a representative — in this case, School Committee member Apryl Rossi — to vote on the association's proposals to the state government. 

The Association of School Committeescurrently has a proposal on the table asking the state legislature to develop an alternative to MCAS, to investigate the biases of MCAS testing and to stop the test effective immediately. The School Council reviewed this proposal, along with other proposals from the Association, as part of its meeting on Thursday. 

School Committee member Brennan McKiernan said he never liked MCAS, and has never met a teacher that could support it. 

McKiernan said he was all for developing an alternative, adding the state couldn't stop it altogether without one in place. "How would we be able to effectively evaluate our educational process and how we're doing in schools without it?"

Rossi said she saw both sides. She thought it useful for statewide benchmarking, but disliked the graduation requirement and thought it led to teachers “teaching to the test” rather than furthering their students' education. 

School Committee Vice Chair Geoff Swett questioned whether any Wareham student had failed to graduate because of the MCAS requirement: because of the multiple opportunities students had to re-take the MCAS tests, Swett did not consider the graduation requirement a hard one to meet. 

"I don't know any students that have not been able to graduate," said Superintendent Matthew D’Andrea. 

The School Committee voted against most clauses in the proposal — a vote that Rossi will take to the state association meeting — but approved the clause urging an investigation into MCAS testing biases.