Last week, the Department of Education released a report showing that more students than ever are earning their MCAS competency in only two attempts (release). While the numbers may be true, the assertion that this is indicative of statewide education improvement is dubious at best.
Just last December, the Department released a report (release) (pdf) showing that students are dropping out of school in record numbers. And while the average drop-out rate has risen to 3.8%, the rates are substantially higher for students of color (6.3% for black students, 9.1% for Hispanic students) and students with limited English proficiency (9.3%). Most striking of all is the fact that 11th and 12th graders who have not passed the MCAS tests drop out at a rate over 10 times higher than those who have.
While the MCAS tests are not the only reason for a student to drop out of high school, the Department’s own numbers show that the dropout rates have steadily risen since the tests’ implementation as a graduation requirement in 2002. The MCAS is supposed to give our schools the information they need to help struggling students, but instead it’s pushing those students out the door.
To address this issue, I am the lead House sponsor of H. 561 (full text), a bill that would reform how MCAS is used as a graduation requirement. The bill, commonly known as the MCAS Reform Bill, would integrate the test into a multiple assessment system to maintain accountability while avoiding the problems that result from high-stakes testing, such as high drop-out rates and narrowing of the curriculum. The bill has been co-sponsored by 30 other legislators and has the support of numerous individuals and organizations with an interest in improving our state’s schools.
We are failing the students who need the most help and the Department of Education is calling it success. That doesn’t sound like success to me.
Carl Sciortino is State Representative from Massachusetts’ 34th Middlesex district, including parts of Somerville & Medford