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State Board Waives MCAS Graduation Requirement, Explores Plans For Reopening Schools

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in Malden. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in Malden. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has temporarily waved a graduation requirement that high schoolers pass the 10th grade MCAS exams. Instead, officials will use student transcripts to determine their competency in math, English and science for seniors who haven't passed the tests. Officials estimate the move will impact about 1,000 students.

The board made the change unanimously Tuesday morning.

Typically, high school students get their first chance to pass these subject matter tests in the 10th grade. If they don't, they can take the exams again in the following years.

This year's MCAS tests were canceled because of the coronavirus. State education commissioner Jeff Riley said without lifting the requirement, those students would have been robbed of one last opportunity to pass.

"We should go with this alternative path to make sure our kids aren't punished for an inability to take a final exam," he said.

Robert Curtin, the associate commissioner with the department's center for district support estimated that during typical years, only a small percentage of those roughly 1,000 students end up passing the MCAS during their senior year and go on to graduate. But, he said this policy "is about the opportunity more than the outcome."

Commissioner Riley also offered a brief update on how state officials were beginning to plan for next school year. He told board members that he's created a working group of education stakeholders and public health leaders to examine a variety of options. Riley added that they're examining how other countries that have passed the surge phase of the coronavirus spread are re-opening their classrooms.

"Some countries are having students wear face masks, some countries are having students stagger schedules, some countries have their kids desks six feet apart," he explained.

Riley said officials are working to determine which approach would be best for Massachusetts students but he didn't say when those plans would be released.

He also did not rule out the possibility that students might have to take some kind of a test or diagnostic assessment when they do return to the classroom in order to help districts determine learning needs for the school year.

"We're meeting with [superintendents] now to sort that out," he told board members.  But, Riley added that any kind of testing would be part of a gradual re-entry process.

"I'm not interested in having kids test on their first day or even week back to school," he said. "We have to get kids re-acclimated  to the school day."

Riley explained that the goal of the testing would be two fold: to help educators determine what students need to catch up and to help researchers later on determine which remote learning approaches were the most successful.

Carrie Jung Twitter Reporter, Edify
Carrie is a senior education reporter with Edify.

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