Getting Answers: concerns over raising MCAS requirements

Published: Nov. 14, 2022 at 8:16 AM EST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) - In August, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, also known as DESE, raised the MCAS requirements for the class of 2026 after schools saw a drop in test scores during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Raising the passing bar now, we suggest, which is but one measure of high standards, will do more harm to the very students who have already been disproportionately harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said State Senator Joanne Comerford.

Comerford expressed her concerns over raising MCAS requirements during a meeting this past August. Students are now required to earn a scaled score of at least a 486 on English Language Arts and at least a 470 on science, technology and engineering tests. The old thresholds were 472 for English and 486 for math.

Educators will now start prepping freshman classes to meet the new scoring standards come 2026. Modesto Montero, executive director of the Libertas Academy in Springfield, told Western Mass News that, while they are up to the challenge, they recognize the class of 2026 may have a hard time adjusting.

“There are two things that come to mind, right? The first is the timing of raising the standard. We are just starting the recovery process coming out of a challenging couple of years in response to a global pandemic that led to some significant learning loss...The second piece is I want to ensure that we’re not just thinking about raising the standard for our students, but we’re also thinking about how we are providing the right support for them,” Montero explained.

Comparing current high schoolers to third through eighth graders, while students in grades three through eight showed a six percent increase in meeting or exceeding expectations in math and those in grade 10 showed a two percent increase. English scores took a decline across the board showing a five percent decrease in students in grades three through and a six percent dip in grade 10.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association said, over the past 10 years, the MCAS has been responsible for over 50,000 high school graduate hopefuls becoming high school dropouts. MTA President Max Page told Western Mass News that raising the standards could contribute to that statistic.

“We think the MCAS is a very limited and blunt tool for measuring all the things that we hope to happen in schools. We’re opposed to lifting the scores even higher which will disadvantage even more students every year,” Page said.

One concern Page brought up is a potential change in curriculum. He fears teachers will have to adjust their education to provide more MCAS prep in an attempt to keep up with new requirements.

“The MCAS already forces a narrowing of the curriculum and also applies pressure to school districts, to schools to individual educators to focus on teaching to the test. It’s one of our biggest complaints that our members of the Massachusetts Teachers Association have,” Page noted.

Montero told Western Mass News keeping a balanced educational environment is crucial to getting kids prepared for life after high school.

“It isn’t just about doing well on MCAS. It’s about getting our kids ready for post-secondary plans, so academic support, make sure they have college career readiness on their mind to ensure themselves for success,” Montero added.

While schools have until 2026 to prepare kids for the higher score requirements, one school seems ahead of the curve. Hampden Charter received some of the best MCAS scores in the state. Hampden Charter CEO Tarkan Topcuoglu told Western Mass News how they’re prepping their students.

“We started off with the diagnostic tests at the beginning of the year to find out their weaknesses. On each new marking period, we check in with our students on where they are and how they do and we address their weaknesses with in-class new strategies and tutoring programs we do or study halls after school or on Saturdays or online,” Topcuoglu said.

Nicole Godard is a teacher at Hampden Charter. She said changes to the MCAS aren’t new and while she understands the concern of students and parents, she added it’s another challenge of preparing kids for the next level.

“I would say, as we see these changing metrics are and what the 21st century needs, we’ve been responding to that and would be responding to that without the MCAS telling us what that looks like,” Godard said.

Comerford expressed her concerns over raising MCAS requirements during a meeting this past August. Students are now required to earn a scaled score of at least a 486 on English Language Arts and at least a 470 on science, technology and engineering tests. The old thresholds were 472 for English and 486 for math.