Coming soon to a theater near you

So you thought you were in for some time out. That would be a logical expectation for any teen headed to the movies on, say, a Friday night. But for the next 10 months, kids in Massachusetts who decide to catch a flick – no matter how well deserved – may be in for a shock.

The state department of education is reaching out in newly urgent ways to the 15,000 teenagers who haven't passed the state graduation exam, which takes effect this school year. At some movies, the big screen will display an exam-related website address that students – long known to carry pens and memo pads – can jot down. Radio stations that both kids and adults tune in to will carry public-service announcements. Banners are going up at key events.

It's all part of a $50,000 effort to catch kids wherever they are and remind them about The Test.

The need to pass the MCAS isn't a new concept for Bay State students. Tutoring programs have ratcheted up and posters are on display in schools. Educators have exhorted their charges to take the test seriously. An ad campaign in April 2001 put $500,000 into getting the word out; another last October cost $700,000.

It's not hard to think of numerous other uses for those funds – such as activities that promote better learning or prevent truancy, or messages that are conveyed by real people known to the students.

Public school kids all need to pass the state test, and they should know that adults stand ready to help them. But each year, students hear about the benefits of developing a lifelong love of learning. If we hammer them at every opportunity with impersonal ads about the need to pass a test, they may just start to wonder what we're talking about.

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