MASSACHUSETTS HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS will soon have to cross a higher bar on the Grade 10 MCAS to graduate. The state board of education on Monday approved changes that will increase the passing score needed for the test starting in the class of 2026.
The Council on Elementary and Secondary Education’s 8-3 vote was met with more than 200 public comments submitted since April, nearly all of them opposing the changes, and a letter signed by nearly 100 state lawmakers urging the council to reject the proposal. The state’s two teachers’ unions were also against the proposal.
Lawmakers wrote that increasing the minimum score needed to graduate will be more harmful to students who have been disproportionately harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic, including people with disabilities, English language learners and black students. and Latinos. “If the state’s goal is racial and social equity, this is the wrong way to go,” they wrote.
But education board members backing the change in so-called ‘skills determination’ said it was important to raise achievement standards precisely because the state is not educating these same students properly. marginalized.
“I think the biggest and most inequitable consequence is what happens to that student who receives a degree that is not supported by an ability to move on to a job, college or other future careers. “said Holyoke Board Member Michael Moriarty.
Beginning with the Class of 2003, Massachusetts students were required to pass MCAS to graduate from high school. The graduation requirement was put in place as part of the Education Reform Act of 1993, which funneled millions of dollars in new state aid to poorer school districts while establishing a new system of educational standards and accountability.
Under board-approved changes, students entering Year 9 this fall will need to score at least 486 points in the English test, up from 472 currently. The current minimum math score of 486 will not change. The new required scores are just past the midpoint of “partially meets expectations,” the second-to-bottom of the four categories. The minimum science test passing score of 470 will not change.
More than a decade ago, beginning with the Class of 2010, the state created a second pathway to fulfill the MCAS graduation requirement. As part of this change, students scoring below the current pass thresholds, but scoring at least 455 in English and 469 in math, can graduate by following an “educational proficiency plan” that includes completing courses in grades 11 and 12 in the subjects in which they failed. The board-approved changes will raise the minimum score required to graduate with an educational competency plan to 470.
In all four MCAS categories, scores below 470 are considered “not meeting expectations”, while scores from 470 to 499 are considered “partially meeting expectations”.
The board also approved a set of new regulations governing the teacher competency plans used by districts. Up to 30% of all students have met the state’s graduation requirement in recent years through this alternative route, and state officials say it hasn’t. had sufficient supervision or support.
Education Commissioner Jeff Riley’s proposal to increase MCAS’s minimum passing score was based on research conducted by John Papay, associate professor of education and economics at Brown University. Papay looked at years of MCAS scores and long-term student education and income outcomes and found that students who had just achieved the current MCAS minimum passing scores were not well prepared for university or to succeed in the workplace.
“Students who score close to the pass mark don’t fare particularly well in terms of long-term outcomes and don’t appear to be college or career ready, on average,” Papay said in a statement. Presentation to State Board of Education at April Meeting.
Papay found that MCAS scores were strongly correlated with income and education levels at age 30. While a frequent criticism of confidence in test scores is that they tend to simply reflect students’ socioeconomic background, Papay found that higher scores were linked to better long-term outcomes. -varied results for students from similar backgrounds in the same schools.
His research also compared students with similar scores in Grade 8 and found that those who made greater gains in Grade 10 performed better as adults, suggesting a long-term impact of gains in learning in the early years of high school.
Papay found that only 5% of students who had just passed the mathematics grade mark went on to complete a four-year college degree. During this time, their Median 2019 earnings at age 30 were below $40,000 a year, a level below the standard set by MIT researchers as the minimum for a “living wage” in Massachusetts.
The state board of education went even further than Riley had proposed, passing an amendment from board member Martin West to extend the new score requirements by an additional year, to the class of 2030. , and to raise the score requirement for English and math from the class. from 2031 to 500, the bottom of the “meets expectations” category. There will be no change in the score needed to meet the graduation requirement through an educational competency plan.
In the discussion before the vote, there was little common ground among board members on opposing sides of the issue.
Mary Ann Stewart, who voted against the change along with Darlene Lombos and the council’s new student representative, Eric Plankey, said the state would face a “insurmountable equity problem as a result of the increase in these scores.
“How do we even pretend [we’re assessing] competence when determined by a single test,” Stewart said. “We’re going deeper into a narrower hole to make it even harder for historically marginalized groups.”
Matt Hills, a board member supporting the changes, pointed to analyzes showing a strong correlation between scores and longer-term life outcomes. Ignoring these results and criticizing the role of testing does “a disservice to the students we claim to help”, he said. “It may be good policy in some quarters, but I think it’s really bad policy on our part to say that this stuff just doesn’t matter.”
Max Page, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, has spoken scathingly about the testing system introduced with the passage of the 1993 Education Reform Act, calling it the “MCAS hunger games.” He said he had no doubts the board would approve the changes, but seemed hopeful that the impending change in administrations would lead to a change in MCAS policy. Page said he and the state’s largest teachers’ union are waiting to see the current board replaced with new members “who will reverse this two-decade travesty.”