The proposition behind MCAS testing is a simple: you must know certain things in order to merit a high school degree. Hence, an up-or-down test on the things you absolutely must know, and if you don’t pass, you haven’t warranted the degree. Simple, right?
Conservative-leaning individuals (“conservatives”, from here on out, though I prefer the nuance) are often supporters of the MCAS or similar determinative testing. I’ll throw out a bread-and-butter conservative argument, because where their argument ends, mine begins. Conservatives love to boil things down a single fact or principle: “Public schools are about education, right? I mean, Itâs why theyâre there, right?” Hard to disagree. Conservatives can go on a lot of rants from there, but hereâs how they apply the point to the MCAS: “If schools are there to educate, then a student who hasn’t been educated shouldn’t receive a degree.” Right?
The conservative argument is valuable because it is precise. Schools are about *this*; let’s talk about *this one thing specifically* and cut away the distractions. It’s not a flawed process. Rather, on this argument, we have flawed assumptions. Public school is not about only education.
What, then? I want to be very precise, because only a precise answer will satisfy a conservative.
Public schools are about turning children into adult members of society.
In making this argument, I consider the meaning of that which is at stake: graduation.
When a young person walks down the aisle of their graduation hall, wearing their cap and gown; when they shake the hand of the principal, and is congratulated by their parents and teachers; in that moment, no one in that room is thinking, âIt makes my heart swell with pride to look at young John and know that he has passed that final threshold of adulthood: the MCAS.â Not even a conservative parent is thinking that.
When people watch our high school graduates walk down the aisle, they are bursting with pride because their sons, daughters, nephews, nieces and friends have grown into such handsome, mature young adults. They are so strong, and so responsible. They have taken such great strides from the frail, bratty children they were so very little time ago.
Graduating from high school means becoming a full member of the adult community of this country. It means stepping over the line and taking full responsibility for your own actions. It means accepting a commitment of ethical behavior towards others. It means that others look on you as a full adult, and you stand among other adults as equals.
Responsibility? Ethics? These are qualities Iâd dearly like every single high school graduate to have. It would be nice if we could test for them, but we canât. It ainât a perfect world.
Prose comprehension skills? Quantitative logic? Canât hurt. But, there are plenty of wonderful people (and, plenty of people much more successful than me) who have neither.
I canât think of anything off the cuff that you could write on a piece of paper that would serve as a universal cut-off for whether someone graduated high school. But if I could, I donât think it would include anything thatâs currently on the MCAS.
I donât have any children. But one day I probably will, and if anyone tries to keep my child-turned-adult from walking down that aisle in their cap and gown because they couldnât master some standardized test, theyâd better batten down the hatchesâ¦because they will be catching one heck of a firestorm from this concerned parent.