She came so close: Tiara makes a narrow miss on the MCAS

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She was close - heartbreakingly close. Only a couple of wrong answers will separate Tiara Smith from her high school diploma this June.

Tiara, a high school senior, failed the English and math portions of the Massachusetts Comprehensive System (MCAS) exam all high school students are required to pass in order to graduate.

Tiara didn't let two previous unsuccessful attempts stop her. As described in a Monitor story last December, she spent weeks preparing - with the help of teachers at Madison Park High School and tutors at a local church near her Boston home.

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Neither Tiara nor her support network has given up yet. She will continue to be tutored this spring and will enroll in another prep class this summer.

Ninety percent of the class of 2003 has now passed both the math and English portions of the test. But that means some 5,400 Massachusetts seniors still haven't passed one or both portions of the test, including 96 students at Madison Park.

Some may still earn a waiver under a state appeals process. Tiara is unlikely to qualify.

The church-based Higher Education Resource Center will work with about 50 of those students, including Tiara, to ensure they pass the May or August retest and can enroll in community college come fall, says director Sam Acevedo.

"Our job is to remind these kids that the world isn't over," he says.

Tiara could not be reached for comment. But her mother is proud at "how stalwart her little girl is," Mr. Acevedo adds. "The biggest problem is the hopelessness. She will pass this thing as long as she doesn't lose her determination and her hope. The rest we can work with."

A week after getting her results, Tiara didn't show up for her first posttest tutoring session with Kathryn Jefferis, a Boston College student who volunteered to mentor her.

When they finally do connect, Ms. Jefferis says that she will take Tiara out for dinner and a movie - the reward she promised when Tiara passes the test.

"She only missed by a couple points," Jefferis says."That's really disappointing."

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