After Hurricane Maria hit, hundreds of students from Puerto Rico were enrolled in western Massachusetts school districts.
As students continue to rebuild their lives, they're also struggling to pass the mandatory statewide exam.
Students in Massachusetts are required to take and pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, also known as M.C.A.S. in order to receive their diploma.
Education advocates told Western Mass News for those students who don't speak English fluently, they're set up for failure. More than 800 students from Puerto Rico enrolled in western Massachusetts schools to continue their education after the hurricane devastated the island.
While they worked to get acclimated into a new culture and classroom, they're faced with another problem - passing the M.C.A.S.
Education Advocate Kelly LaRoe said it's unfair to the students coming from Puerto Rico because although they have the knowledge, there may be a language barrier that causes them to struggle.
"You can only imagine how much pain and hurt you can feel from losing everything you've known," said LaRoe. In order to receive a diploma, students in Massachusetts have to pass the English, math, and science sections of the M.C.A.S.
"English not first language families [are] not only dealing with having to move somewhere, they never been and understand how things work in Massachusetts," LaRoe noted.
LaRoe said she wants schools to offer a Spanish version of the exam. "Its an injustice for someone who worked so hard in their native language to lose everything they worked hard for because we're denying them access in their own language," she added. Students can receive a M.C.A.S. waiver which means although they didn't pass the exam, they have a certificate of completion from the city.
Education Advocate Andrea MacGovern said in an economy where finding a job is already tough and competition is high, a diploma makes a difference.
"When a school sees that, their first impression is that the student didn’t have the ability to pass, so when we put a segment of the population in that basket with students who couldn’t pass, you have honor students coming from Puerto Rico who would ace it if it was in their language. They're being discriminated because they don't speak the language," said MacGovern. Both LaRoe and MacGovern are encouraging people who want the change to happen, to reach out to their legislature.
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