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High School Seniors Will Not Have To Take MCAS To Graduate, Under Proposal

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)

High school seniors will not need to pass English and math MCAS exams to graduate this year, under a proposal by the state education commissioner.

In a memo to superintendents, state education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley wrote about the importance of the standardized tests in assessing learning loss during the pandemic, but acknowledged that some districts want flexibility.

Most years, the state requires students earn a passing score on the math and English portions of the MCAS in order to graduate. Typically, those tests are taken in 10th grade. Any student whose scores are too low can retake the tests or complete an alternative educational proficiency plan to graduate.

If approved by the board later this month, roughly 5,000 seniors across the state who had hoped to retake the MCAS tests next week would be able to pass "an approved course and demonstrate competency in that subject" to meet the graduation requirement.

The state is not giving up on the MCAS. The first page of the memo was dedicated to writing about estimated setbacks for students' learning since the shift to remote and hybrid learning last spring.

"The magnitude of this potential impact demands that we accurately and fairly assess the level of student learning this school year," Riley wrote, pointing to the MCAS as key to evaluating those learning losses.

MCAS testing periods for grades three through eight will be "significantly reduced," according to the memo, though it did not detail what that would look like.

The commissioner also said he would not recommend any additional districts or schools be labeled underperforming or chronically underperforming this school year.

In an interview with WBUR, State Education Secretary Jim Peyser said the pandemic has caused too many disruptions to use them for school accountability.

"Therefore, we’re wanting to make sure we’re not putting too much weight on the results but using it to help guide our decision making and our allocation of resources to the students who need it the most," Peyser said.

English language learners would still have to take a federally mandated standardized test, but the state is giving those students until May 20 to complete the exams.

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