Current eleventh graders in Massachusetts would not have to take a standardized test in order to graduate high school, under a proposal announced Thursday.
Students usually take the series of tests, known as MCAS, as tenth graders. But COVID-19 closed schools to in-person learning last spring. State Elemetary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley said the proposal was made "in recognition of that."
Reaction across western Massachusetts to the news was positive in the education community.
"I think it's the right decision. I don't think that our seniors should be worried about taking a test for graduation when we already know that their education was disrupted for over a year," said Maureen Colgan-Posner, president of the Springfield Education Association, the city's teachers union. "I think we should be focusing on catching up."
Laura Fallon, who represents part of western Massachusetts on the board of the state's association of school committees, agreed.
"I really think that ... they can benefit from their time being focused right now on direct instruction and not on high stakes testing," Fallon said.
Timothy Callahan, principal of Drury High School in North Adams, said he was "relieved" and "grateful" when it came to calling off the MCAS graduation requirement.
"I also have a much stronger feeling about the MCAS test in general," Callahan said. "I think it's an unethical, biased exam, and I don't think it should be used at all as an accountability measure, or as a graduation requirement."
The proposal still needs the approval of the state's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Students in lower grades will still have to take MCAS tests, but the exams will be shorter and districts will have more time to administer them.
While the Baker administration and some advocacy groups have described the MCAS as a key tool for measuring learning loss experienced during the pandemic, teachers unions and some lawmakers have called for canceling the tests this year in light of the continued educational turmoil.
"This is a step in the right direction," state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa of Northampton wrote on Twitter, reacting to Riley's announcement. "Now just cancel the test for the rest of the year, Commissioner. Our students and teachers need to get back to learning in a supportive environment. Not one filled with stress as they race to prep for a test."
Sen. Jo Comerford, also from Northampton, called Riley's recommendation "another nail in the coffin of a failed test."
"I respectfully urge the Commissioner and his board to recognize that the MCAS exam is not moving the students and schools of our Commonwealth equitably forward," Comerford said in a statement. "We must #CancelMCAS once and for all, stop letting one test rob our children of a high school diploma, and rethink the way Massachusetts determines academic excellence."
Meanwhile, Keri Rodrigues of the group Massachusetts Parents United blasted Riley's recommendation as one that would "water down graduation requirements for the Class of 2022."
"Rather than keeping a sharp focus on preparing the Class of 2022 academically and getting them ready for college or career success, the decision today is telling these high school juniors that we do not believe in them, that we've given up on them meeting the same standards as every other graduating class," Rodrigues said in a statement. "In light of this unwise decision, the Baker administration should be allocating special funding for the necessary remedial courses for students who aren't prepared to take a college level course after being handed a 'pandemic' diploma."
Material from State House News Service was used in this report.