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State is raising the MCAS bar

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted Aug. 15 to raise the standardized test scores needed for students to graduate high school. Charter school supporters were in attendance at the meeting.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Board fails to heed concerns over increasing graduation requirements

I am outraged and dismayed at the decision by the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to raise MCAS graduation requirements (“Graduates will need higher test scores,” Page A1, Aug. 16). I wonder why the board did not hear the concerns that were raised during the public comment period by more than 200 respondents, the vast majority of whom were in opposition. The members voting yes did not seem to listen to the student on the board who voted against this decision. Students need to be able to have choices as they learn, and clearly, they did not choose this path forward.


We may see many dire consequences, including: an increase in dropout rates when test-taking anxiety makes success so far out of reach; joy of learning marginalized with so much test preparation; students with special needs and English-language learners struggling for success; and students with trauma and socialization issues from the pandemic unable to access the parts of their brains needed for higher-level learning.

Students need their schools to connect them to what they do well so that they learn to thrive in their communities, become responsible citizens, and find a zest for life. That is the goal of all educators.

We need to give students time to catch up for lost learning due to the pandemic. This is the wrong time to increase graduation requirements.

Charlyn Bethell


The writer is a retired teacher in the Concord Public Schools.

There’s a rich landscape of better assessments that is worth exploring

Assessment is an important part of education. Ideally, it identifies both a student’s progress on learning goals and which supports are needed to improve. Standardized tests can play a role, but an overemphasis on high-stakes testing can have unintended consequences. When assessments are used as a kind of autopsy to rank and sort students after the fact, they can narrow opportunities and set up barriers to college and career pathways. Raising the bar on standardized tests will not be the panacea to close gaps in Massachusetts.


We must reexamine the roles of assessment systems to support relevant, authentic learning. Assessments can take many forms, from classroom-based, performance assessments, to self-assessments, to assessments that document learning beyond school walls.

Across the country, there are examples of meaningful, innovative assessments where stakeholders are engaged in how progress is tracked and communicated beyond a snapshot in time. From Vermont’s Portrait of a Graduate to Hawaii’s HĀ, or BREATH, program, which focuses on lifelong learning outcomes, states are redefining student success. Students create “performance” projects, evidence, and portfolios of work.

In Massachusetts, the state has applied for the federal government’s permission through the Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority to have a pilot on innovative performance assessment, and the Kaleidoscope Collective for Learning is laying the groundwork for such innovation.

Why not make this approach the norm statewide?

Laurie Gagnon


The writer is a program director at the Aurora Institute, a national education nonprofit.

There’s a place for testing in every classroom

Many say that testing is not a definitive measure of student progress and that it’s inferior to other methods.

A test in itself is a form of learning. You think you understand a concept or series of events until a question from outside your own mind forces you to manipulate this understanding, to see things from different angles. This enlarges mastery.


So-called frills do belong in a classroom. They are fundamental. But so is rote learning. Repetition is a key.

Teaching should involve all of these methods, including testing that challenges and truly measures mastery.

Joan Pendleton

North Andover