A Bay State revolt bucks high-stakes tests
In a battle over fairness and accountability, some school districts say 'No' to tying diplomas to a test.
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Mr. Reville and others in the pro-MCAS camp also point to the latest numbers. With 19 percent of the class of '03 still trying to pass last fall, schools put forth a massive effort. Special classes and extra tutoring helped 9 percent more pass the December exam. And for students who haven't yet passed, there are other options. "The spirit is to say to kids, 'We're not giving up on you ..., but there are some doors that no one can open for you unless you acquire the knowledge and skills to open them yourselves," says Mr. Cohen of Achieve Inc.Skip to next paragraph
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Among school districts, the tiny Hampshire School Committee, in the western part of the state, was the first to take a stand. Cambridge and five other towns followed suit. In some cases, the number of students affected is so small the action seems mostly symbolic, but districts insist it's important.
"We felt the MCAS graduation requirement was educationally unsound," says David Kotz, a University of Massachusetts economics professor and North-ampton School Committee member. He ticks off a list of reasons: It discriminates against special-ed students, low-income students, and students of color - all of whom have lower passing rates; it pressures schools to focus on English and math and "teach to the test." "Of course," he adds, "it's a step further to defy the state Board of Education."
Between when Northampton began debating a resolution and when it finally adopted it last month, the number of local students affected - those who haven't passed the MCAS or received a waiver, but who are on track to complete graduation requirements - dropped from 20 percent of the class to one or two students. Still, Mr. Kotz says, "the harm this graduation requirement would do to some students was something we felt we really needed to defend them against."
The state, predictably, isn't happy. If communities issue diplomas to students who failed the MCAS, says Department of Education spokeswoman Heidi Perlman, "they'll be breaking the law." The state could withhold funding, or refer them to the attorney general's office. "If students are given diplomas that they didn't earn, then those will be invalid diplomas," says Ms. Perlman, adding that the state intends to verify them this summer.
Most likely, the standoff will be resolved with the class-action lawsuit, since few towns would defy a ruling by the state's top court. A superior-court ruling is expected any day, though either side will likely appeal. Lawyers for the students are basing arguments on their interpretation of the 1993 law that created the MCAS. "It called for multiple assessments of students to determine if they had competency," says Nadine Cohen, one of the lawyers arguing the case. "It did not require one high-stakes test."
In the meantime, Candido's family is just happy he'll be walking across the stage this June, however he got there. "I have not seen him that relaxed in a long time," says Mr. Fain. "This meant everything to him, this degree."