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Board of Education clears graduation hurdle for some high school seniors

They needed to pass MCAS, but the test was canceled

The Massachusetts Board of Education is providing students who did not pass the MCAS a path to getting their high school diploma.
The Massachusetts Board of Education is providing students who did not pass the MCAS a path to getting their high school diploma.David L Ryan, Globe Staff

About 1,000 Massachusetts high school seniors did everything they needed to to graduate — except pass the MCAS. They were dealt another blow earlier this spring when the state canceled MCAS testing, putting their futures in doubt.

But on Tuesday, the Massachusetts Board of Education gave these students a reprieve, offering a pathway to a diploma.

"We should . . . make sure that our kids aren’t punished for an inability to take [the] exam,'' state education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley told the board on Tuesday. He recommended that the state review the students’ transcripts to help move them along to graduation.

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In any given year, Riley said, roughly 3,500 high school seniors do not pass the MCAS. A vast majority of those students include those with severe education needs who need an extra year of schooling and seniors who may have failed a class and need to repeat the 12th grade.

But approximately 1,000 of the 3,500 students have done the hard work —completing courses and grades — to meet their graduation requirements in their local school districts. However, they did not pass one or more MCAS tests in English Language Arts, math, and science to receive their “competency determination" from the state, officials said.

They had another setback when the state took the unprecedented step of canceling MCAS testing this spring, after educators campaigned to scrap the tests amid a statewide closure of schools due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Associate Education Commissioner Rob Curtin told the board that the affected seniors “might not have had the final opportunity to get over the competency determination hump because we’ve canceled the MCAS.”

"We need to put an alternative structure in place to allow them to make up for the fact that MCAS has been canceled,'' he added.

Those 12th graders can now show that they successfully completed a course with the same subject matter that would have been on the MCAS, said state officials, adding that they are still mapping out the details of the process.

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The vote Tuesday comes as state and local education officials try to manage a significant disruption to education because of the contagion. On Friday, Riley messaged local school districts and urged them to consider keeping online school open a little longer.

“Recognizing that local remote learning plans were still being developed during the first week of ordered school closures, every district is expected to go to at least its previously scheduled 185th day,'' instead of the traditional 180, the commissioner wrote in his weekly update to the districts.

If a district held remote learning during April vacation week, he wrote, it can close for the summer after 181 days. “A reminder," the message said, "districts can always decide to go longer.”



Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.