Teacher's 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/WBUR)
A voter receives a ballot at Graham and Parks School in Cambridge, Mass. in 2020. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Editor's Note: This story was updated to include comment from MTA leadership and the union's official endorsement of the proposal.

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.

The measure will have the backing of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state's largest teachers' union.

Following a vote by its board of directors Sunday, the MTA will launch a campaign to help collect the roughly 75,000 signatures needed to get the question on the ballot, and support it further if that's accomplished.

Max Page, the MTA's president, explained the union's support for the petition in an interview with WBUR.

“All the focused test prep, and all the time wasted on preparing for this test, has not had the impact that so-called ‘ed reformers’ want," Page said. "And it’s time now to change it.”

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 MTA 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 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 union-backed petition also needs approval from the legislature before appearing on the Nov. 2024 ballot.

This article was originally published on August 02, 2023.


Max Larkin Reporter, Education
Max Larkin is an education reporter.



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