Schools

The ballot measure would remove the standardized test as a graduation requirement, but would not eliminate it altogether.

The MTA board voted to back a ballot initiative that would remove passing the MCAS as a graduation requirement. Adobestock

The governing board of Massachusetts‘ largest teachers union voted Sunday to back a ballot measure that would remove passing the state’s standardized tests as a requirement for high school graduation.

The ballot measure wouldn’t eliminate the MCAS altogether, but would remove it as a barrier to graduation for students. The Massachusetts Teachers Union (MTA) says it would like to see the MCAS replaced by “locally developed and state-approved methods of certifying students’ mastery of academic coursework.”

The MTA, which represents over 100,00 educators statewide, has long supported eliminating MCAS as a graduation requirement, arguing that forcing students to pass the test reduces teaching time, narrows the scope of what subjects teachers can cover, and reduces creativity while adding stress in the classroom.

Assuming that the ballot measure is approved by the Attorney General’s office, the MTA and other backers would still need to get 75,000 signatures of support for it to appear on a statewide ballot in 2024. The MTA can now spend money and other resources to garner support for the measure.

The ballot measure was filed by petitioners on Aug. 2 and was signed by MTA Vice President Deb McCarthy, the union said in a press release. The MTA’s governing board voted to support the measure unanimously.

Massachusetts is one of only eight states that requires students to pass a standardized test to graduate. The requirement was added in 1993 as part of the Education Reform Act.

Over 700 high school students per year typically don’t receive a diploma because they didn’t pass the MCAS, The Boston Globe reported Sunday. They instead receive “certificates of attainment” if they passed local graduation requirements.

There is also a bill currently going through the Legislature that would eliminate MCAS as a graduation requirement called the Thrive Act. It was filed in February and is in committee.

The MCAS debate

The “punitive aspects” of the MCAS are especially detrimental to students on individualized education plans (IEPs), students learning English as a second language, and students of color, the MTA argues on its website.

“The MCAS has not only failed to close learning gaps that have persisted along racial and economic lines, but the standardized tests have exacerbated the disparities among our student populations,” MTA President Max Page and Vice President McCarthy said in a statement Sunday.

Additionally, a January 2023 article in EducationWeek, a newspaper for educators, argued that studies show making passing a standardized test a requirement for graduation does not improve academic achievement and can increase dropout rates.

But the MCAS still has some supporters. Earlier this year, Mary Tamer, state director of Massachusetts’ Democrats for Education Reform, told the Daily Hampshire Gazette that the MCAS tests are “a tool for equity.”

“It provides educators with information on how their students are doing and what lessons are resonating, and what may not be resonating…It doesn’t tell us everything, but it tells us something really important about how kids are doing in the classroom,” she told the newspaper.

Chris Anderson, president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council and former chair of the Massachusetts Board of Education, said in a statement to the Globe Sunday that getting rid of the MCAS would “do a disservice to all students, particularly students in underperforming districts and schools.”

“This proposal would jeopardize the futures of Massachusetts high school graduates, endanger the state’s standing as a national leader in education, and put the state’s economy at a further competitive disadvantage,” he told the Globe.