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Teachers union backs push to remove MCAS high school graduation requirement

A voter receives a ballot at Graham and Parks School in Cambridge, Mass. in 2020.
Robin Lubbock
A voter receives a ballot at Graham and Parks School in Cambridge, Mass. in 2020.

Petitioners filed a draft ballot initiative with the Massachusetts attorney general on Wednesday that would suspend the high school graduation requirement linked to the MCAS, the state’s standardized test.

Massachusetts is one of just eight states that still requires students to pass a standardized test to graduate from public high schools. Students must earn passing scores on the Grade 10 math and English exams and one science and technology/engineering test.

If the measure makes it onto the ballot in 2024, voters may have a chance to suspend that requirement.

The petition proposes to instead use students’ completion of and mastery of high school coursework based on academic standards and other benchmarks to judge their competency to graduate.

The campaign to end the MCAS graduation requirement has the preliminary support of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, which also supports the Thrive Act, a bill seeking to accomplish the same outcome.

In a statement Wednesday, MTA leadership faulted the state’s testing regime for “causing harm” in schools. The union argues the MCAS passing rate is lower for students with disabilities and those from immigrant households.

“Given the urgency on the part of educators and parents to begin overhauling the high-stakes aspects of the MCAS regime, the MTA is eager to further the process at the ballot box,” the statement read.

The MTA’s board of directors will vote Sunday on whether to formally throw its political muscle behind the measure.

The petition was filed and signed by 10 people, including union activists, recent high school graduates, parents and educators, according to an MTA press release.

Last fall, the union advocated for the “Fair Share Amendment,” a ballot initiative that imposed a tax on high incomes to fund public education and transportation. That measure passed with 52% of the vote.

In an MTA-backed poll conducted in early June, 73% of 800 registered voters said they supported ending the MCAS graduation requirement.

But the existing law has its defenders.

Ed Lambert, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, credited the MCAS and its graduation requirement with “catapult[ing] Massachusetts schools to first-in-the-nation status.”

In an interview Wednesday, Lambert argued that the MCAS requirement provides a high and “common standard” for all students in the state, and that undoing it could set back Gov. Maura Healey’s efforts to make the state more economically competitive.

Lexington parent Shelley Scruggs filed a similar draft ballot initiative for 2024, telling the State House News Service that she did so on behalf of her son, who “isn’t a great test taker.”

The petition needs to attract roughly 75,000 signatures — and get approval from the legislature — before appearing on the Nov. 2024 ballot.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
Copyright 2023 WBUR. To see more, visit WBUR.

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