Support the Thrive Act: Write the Joint Education Committee

It’s coming down to the wire, the end of this state legislative session at the end of June. You can raise your voice one more time for the Thrive Act before the session ends by sending a letter to the members of the Joint Committee on Education.

Massachusetts’ state takeover law, and the state’s misuse of the MCAS as a graduation requirement, are failing our students and disrupting their education. The Thrive Act would end the failed system of state takeovers of school districts, and replace it with a comprehensive support and improvement system that focuses on giving students and educators the tools and resources they need to succeed. The legislation would also support students by establishing a modified high school graduation requirement in which coursework would replace the MCAS test as the basis for showing student mastery of state standards. And, the legislation would create a commission to give our communities a voice in building a better assessment and accountability system.   → Read More

Testing Education, with Kathy Greeley

CPS invited veteran Cambridge educator Kathy Greeley to read from her memoir and discuss it with participants. In Testing Education, Kathy Greeley recounts the impact of education reform from a teacher’s point of view. Based on a teaching career spanning nearly 40 years, Greeley details how schools went from learning communities infused with excitement, intellectual stimulation, and joy to sterile spaces of stress, intimidation, and fear. In this ultimately hopeful memoir, Greeley asks us to learn from the past to reimagine the future of public education. If you weren’t able to join us, you can view the recording here.   → Read More

English Learners’ High School Graduation Rate Drops with the Reinstatement of the MCAS Graduation Requirement

From 2022 to 2023, the four-year high school graduation rate for Massachusetts English Learners declined 5.8 percentage points (from 73.1% to 67.3%), according to a Citizens for Public Schools analysis. This was the largest decline ever recorded for English learners with the current method of calculating graduation rates.* In 2023, the MCAS graduation requirement was reinstated after a three-year suspension because of the pandemic. 

The suspension and reinstatement provided a unique opportunity to evaluate the impact of the MCAS graduation tests, especially on vulnerable student subgroups such as English learners. 

During the three-year suspension, impressive gains were made in graduation rates, particularly among students who disproportionately fail the MCAS. For example, graduation rates for Black students rose 6.3%, Latinx students rose 6.8%, low-income students rose 4.7%, students with disabilities rose 4.1%, and English learners rose 8.5%. Contrast this with White students’ graduation rate gain of only 0.5%. In other words, the pause in the MCAS graduation requirement coincided with dramatic increases in the graduation rates of historically underserved students.    → Read More

CPS open letter to Gov. Healey 

Let’s debate the MCAS ballot question with facts

People hold many opinions about the proposed ballot question that would end the requirement that students pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) to get a high school diploma. But some things are not a matter of opinion, they are simple facts.

That’s why we were disappointed when Gov. Maura Healey, answering a question about the ballot question, responded that she’s against it because we need “to be able to assess how our young people are doing.”

It’s a simple fact that the ballot question would not eliminate MCAS. The language is clear.

Students would continue to take the federally mandated MCAS exams. But they would get their diplomas by meeting our state’s highly regarded  educational standards as certified by their school districts rather than by attaining a certain score on the test.

Right now, there is no consequence for a fourth grader who scores low on the MCAS.   → Read More

The Surprising Story about the MCAS and MA’s High School Graduation Rates

By Louis J Kruger

Summary: After 20 years of the MCAS graduation requirement, the debate about requiring high school students to pass the MCAS tests will soon reach a crescendo. Next November, voters may be asked on a statewide ballot to decide if the graduation requirement will be discontinued. Against this backdrop, it is important for voters to know if the graduation requirement has adversely impacted Massachusetts’ overall high school graduation rate and the graduation rate of historically underserved students.

During the two decades prior to the pandemic (2000-2019), Massachusetts‘ overall high school graduation rate improved at a slower pace than the U.S. high school graduation rate. However, focusing on Massachusetts’ overall graduation rate obscures what is happening to students from historically underserved groups. Massachusetts’ graduation gaps for Latinx, Black and low-income students and English learners are all larger than the national average gaps for these students. The aforementioned student groups disproportionately fail the 10th grade MCAS tests required for a high school diploma.   → Read More

MCAS tests are not standards

Massachusetts has had world-class, comprehensive K-12 educational standards since the passage of the 1993 Education Reform Act. These standards are deeply embedded throughout our K-12 system. MCAS tests are not state standards. They are limited assessments that address only a small portion of the state standards. Our uniform state standards will continue to shape teaching, learning and assessment, with or without the MCAS graduation requirement. Read our new fact sheet and/or download it below.

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MCAS grad test puts the squeeze on our students’ high school education 

MCAS defenders say the graduation requirement provides a standard, objective measure of achievement. 
Public education advocates say the MCAS graduation requirement distorts and narrows high school education. It leads to dull test prep instead of teaching students problem-solving, creativity, critical thinking, and real-world skills. 

MCAS defenders say MCAS shines a light on inequity.
Public education advocates say the ballot question doesn’t eliminate MCAS, just its use as a graduation requirement. MCAS scores are linked to parental income and education levels, opportunity gaps that educators and families already know exist. The MCAS graduation requirement has failed to address the unequal opportunities driving the test score gap. By disproportionately punishing high-needs students and schools, it widens educational gaps between the haves and have nots. 

MCAS defenders say we’re not doing students any favors by letting them graduate without passing a test.

Public education advocates say “low-stakes” testing — not tied to grades or the ability to graduate — is more effective for evaluating students and for identifying educational deficits.   → Read More

The MCAS, Dropouts and Tortured Logic


Proponents of the MCAS graduation requirement have shared high school dropout data intended to show that the requirement is not a major obstacle to obtaining a diploma. However, they both omitted important data and erroneously interpreted other data. A clear-eyed review of a wider swath of evidence revealed a very different picture. This evidence indicated that (1) the graduation requirement has caused some historically underserved students to drop out; (2) students who failed the 10th grade MCAS were 17 times more likely to drop out than their peers who passed the exams; and (3) the dropout rate for students failing the MCAS has increased from 15 percent in 2015 to 18 percent in 2019.

Massachusetts goes to considerable expense and effort to collect data on MCAS results and dropout rates. Data can be used selectively to bolster or undermine a policy. So, what do the data actually show about the connection between the high-stakes MCAS and dropout rates?   → Read More

CPS testimony supporting H.525: “An Act to ensure educational rights are upheld for incarcerated youth”

Testimony to the Joint Committee on Education in Support of H.515

June 6, 2023 

Dear Chair Garlick, Chair Lewis, and members of the Joint Committee on Education,

Thank you for the opportunity to submit this testimony in support of “An Act to ensure educational rights are upheld for incarcerated youth” (H.515). I am Lisa Guisbond, Executive Director of Citizens for Public Schools, a statewide public education advocacy organization. CPS’s mission is to promote, preserve and protect public schools and public education. We also work to further education justice and to expose and dismantle barriers to educational opportunity and equity. 

On behalf of our Board of Directors, I am writing to enthusiastically support this bill’s goal of ensuring that youth, age 18-22, incarcerated in adult correctional facilities, have access to the educational services they need and to which they are legally entitled. This includes high school, special education, higher education and/or vocational education.    → Read More

CPS Releases New Report – High-stakes use of MCAS harms children. Facts support the “Thrive Act.”

The use of state MCAS scores for making critical decisions about students, schools, and school districts has had a harmful effect on all three. That’s the conclusion of a new report from Citizens for Public Schools and the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest). 

The report is titled Lessons Learned: After 25 years of test-and-punish accountability, it’s time to end the misuse of tests and help all our students to thrive. It supports passage of the “Thrive Act” which aims to stop the damage and improve educational quality and equity for all Massachusetts students. The Thrive Act would keep MCAS testing but end the MCAS graduation requirement. It would also stop stake takeovers of local schools and districts based on scores. 

“Children are being harmed by the misguided use of MCAS standardized test scores as a barrier to graduation and a bludgeon against schools and districts that educate our most vulnerable students,” said Lisa Guisbond, one of the report authors and executive director of Citizens for Public Schools.   → Read More

Why the MCAS Grad Requirement Hurts Students

Citizens for Public Schools has fought the MCAS graduation requirement since its inception. We believe students who meet the state academic standards by passing all their required courses have earned their diplomas and should receive them.

We attempted to calculate the number of students deprived of their diplomas over the past 20 years because of MCAS. We used publicly available statistics published by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). 

We calculated the number of students who were enrolled as high school seniors but were not eligible for a diploma because they had not passed the required MCAS tests. According to the Boston Globe, our estimate was too high because it includes students who had not yet met other graduation requirements. This was an unintentional mistake on our part. 

The Globe says it learned from DESE that the number of students denied diplomas because of MCAS was “only” 702 for one year – 2019.    → Read More

CPS Statement – ‘Commissioner Riley: Remove Incorrect Information about MCAS Refusal’

As Massachusetts schools administer MCAS tests this week, Citizens for Public Schools calls on Jeff Riley, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, to remove the incorrect information on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) web site about a legal requirement that students take the MCAS. 

There is no such requirement.

The site cites General Laws Chapter 69, section 1I. That section says, “[C]omprehensive diagnostic assessment of individual students shall be conducted at least in the fourth, eighth and tenth grades. Said diagnostic assessments shall identify academic achievement levels of all students in order to inform teachers, parents, administrators and the students themselves, as to individual academic performance.”

The DESE web site claims federal law requires students to take the test. That is also false. No such law exists. The law says the test must be given but does not require students to participate. Every year, tens of thousands of students across the nation opt out or refuse to participate in their state’s testing program.    → Read More

CPS Open Letter Calls on State Officials to Reject Proposed Worcester Charter School

Citizens for Public Schools calls on state officials to reject the proposal from Worcester Cultural Academy to create a new charter school in Worcester.

We ask Commissioner Jeff Riley to withdraw his favorable recommendation, Gov. Maura Healey and Education Secretary Patrick Tutwiler to oppose the proposal, and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to reject it if Commissioner Riley does not withdraw it.

CPS was among the vast majority of individuals and groups who submitted public comment against the proposal, comments that were ignored in Commissioner Riley’s favorable recommendation.

Worcester educators have provided detailed criticism of the curriculum and other aspects of the proposal, and pointed out the harm it would do to children in Worcester Public Schools that will lose many millions of dollars to the new charter if it is approved.

But the application also raises an issue that has nothing to do with the benefits or harm of charter schools.   → Read More

Join us for Part 3 of Making the Invisible Visible: Asian Americans in Public Education

Save Wednesday, February 8, at 7pm for the last of three Zoom events on Making the Invisible Visible: Asian Americans in Public Education, presented by Citizens for Public Schools. 

Session 3, on Wednesday, February 8, at 7pm will be “Do Schools and Educators Have the Will to Serve Asian Americans?: A Discussion of Proven Interventions and What is Needed to Initiate and Sustain Them.”

Admission is free but we welcome and encourage contributions to support our work and programs like this.

Register for Session 3 here.

You can view the recording of Session 1 here and Session 2 here.

The first two sessions have shown how the needs of Asian American students are systematically not met in public education. Panelists in the final session will share some interventions that have been useful for promoting Asian American well-being. The critical question, however, is what will it take to initiate and sustain the interventions in order to bring true equity for Asian American students in public education?   → Read More

Making the Invisible Visible: Asian Americans in Public Education

Join us Wednesday, January 18, at 7pm for the second of three Zoom events on Making the Invisible Visible: Asian Americans in Public Education, presented by Citizens for Public Schools.

Session 2 will be “It’s NOT Because of ‘Asian Culture’ that Asian Americans are Invisible: Busting Stereotypes and Framing Realities of Asian American Well Being.”

You can view the recording of Session 1 here.

Admission is free but we welcome and encourage contributions to support our work and programs like this.

Register here:

Asian Americans are frequently omitted from research on aspects of students’ intellectual and emotional well being. Studies that include Asian Americans often inadvertently reinforce the problematic and insidious “model minority” myth that plagues Asian American lived experiences. Continuing the conversation from Session 1, Session 2 panelists will highlight data that challenge the false narratives that Asian Americans have no problems and are thriving, a state of being frequently attributed to their “Asian cultures.”   → Read More

CPS’s 2022 Annual Meeting Honors Education Justice Campaigns & Jean McGuire

Thanks to everyone who made the CPS 2022 Annual Meeting so amazing: our honorees, introducers, new and old board members, members and friends. What a night, and how wonderful to be able to honor and spend time with the indomitable Jean McGuire! Much love to all!

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Join us for CPS’s Annual Meeting, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 7pm, by Zoom

Save the evening of Tuesday, December 13, to help us honor and celebrate three historic education justice victories by these groups: Massachusetts Advocates for Children, Raise Up Massachusetts, and Our City, Our Schools. CPS members and non-members are welcome! Register here.

  • Massachusetts Advocates for Children broke down barriers and created new opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities, autism, and other developmental disabilities by helping to pass a law, the first of its kind in the nation, improving access to post-secondary education for these students.
  • Raise Up Massachusetts built a powerful statewide coalition to win the Fair Share Amendment, a constitutional amendment which will raise an estimated $2 billion a year for public education and transportation.
  • And the Our City, Our Schools coalition made a strong stand for democratic, local control of public schools by pushing back and stopping a proposed state takeover of Boston Public Schools.
  • In addition to honoring these public education campaigns, we will present the Education Justice Lifetime Achievement Award to CPS Board Member Jean McGuire.
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Learn Why to Vote Yes on 1 & How You Can Help

The Fair Share Amendment is Question 1 on the November ballot. It will allow Massachusetts to improve our transportation and public education systems by making the very rich pay their fair share.

Question 1 would create a 4% tax on the portion of a person’s annual income above $1 million and require – in the state constitution – that the funds be spent only on transportation and public education. Only people who earn more than $1 million annually will pay more; 99% of us won’t pay a penny more. And we’ll all benefit from better schools, colleges, roads, bridges, and public transportation.

That’s why Citizens for Public Schools and so many people across Massachusetts are coming together to vote YES on 1: because with Question 1, we all win.

Click here to learn more about why we need to pass Question 1. Click here to find out how you can help.   → Read More

Raising the MCAS Graduation Requirements Risks Widening Graduation Gaps

Massachusetts’ on-time high school graduation rate has been above the national average for at least three decades, due in part to being among the states with the highest parental education and income levels. However, Massachusetts’ overall graduation rate masks the state’s failure to significantly close the persistent graduation gaps for many historically underserved students. Furthermore, the proposal to raise MCAS graduation requirements may serve to further widen the graduation gaps for two particularly vulnerable overlapping groups, Latinx students and English learners.

In 2018-19, Massachusetts had the 5th largest graduation gap (18 percentage points) in the US between Latinx and White students, and the 6th largest graduation gap (26 points) between English learners (ELs) and non-ELLs. In addition, Massachusetts’ graduation gap between African-American and White students (13 points) was larger than the national average gap (10 points) for these groups. Similarly, Massachusetts’ graduation gap between economically disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students (10 points) was larger than the national average gap for these students (6 points).    → Read More

Does Study Support Commissioner Riley’s Proposal to Raise MCAS Passing Scores? Not So Much

Here is CPS’s analysis of a 2020 report by Papay et al., which is being used by Commissioner Riley and DESE to bolster a proposal to raise the scores students must get on the MCAS to get a high school diploma. We sent it to Sec. Peyser, Commissioner Riley and the members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education yesterday. (We also sent it to all of the legislators who signed a letter to the BESE opposing the proposal and to the members of the legislature’s Joint Education Committee.) 

July 13, 2022

Dear Commissioner Riley, Secretary Peyser, and members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education,

In anticipation of your discussion and vote on the proposal to raise the MCAS competency determination standard, we at Citizens for Public Schools offer this analysis of the cautions in the 2020 John Papay et al. Lifting All Boats? Report, included in this message and attached as a PDF document.    → Read More

Dual Language Instruction and the Fight for Equity and Social Justice

Register today for the third in CPS’s series on Race & Education: Latinx Students, Tuesday, June 7 at 7pm by Zoom

Join us June 7 at 7pm by Zoom for Dual Language Instruction and the Fight for Equity and Social Justice. You will hear from an exciting panel of speakers – experts, students and a parent – about the importance of dual language instruction and the 2017 LOOK Act for multilingual learners in the Latinx community.

The panel presentation on the LOOK Act and Dual Language Education (DLE) completes the three-part series on Public Education and Race: Latinx Students. The Language Opportunity for Our Kids Act (2017) known as the LOOK Act endorses research-based programming to meet the educational needs and demographic characteristics of English Learners (ELs) in school districts in the Commonwealth. Compelling presentations will be given by the panelists who are students, a parent, teachers, and experts in the field of dual language education from the Multistate Association for Bilingual Education, Northeast (MABE) and the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy.   → Read More

More than 100 Professors & Researchers Say No to State Takeover of BPS

More than 100 academics have signed on to a letter to Commissioner Jeffrey Riley and members of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education opposing “any proposal that would put Boston Public Schools into state receivership or under state control.”

The letter says “We base this opposition on the long record of failure and damage to local educational communities resulting from state takeovers. The record of receivership in cities around the U.S., and in Massachusetts, clearly argues against this action.” Read the full letter and see the signers here. (To add your name, email Lisa Guisbond here.)   → Read More

Interrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Register today for the next in CPS’s series on Race & Education: Latinx Students, Thursday, May 12 at 7pm by Zoom

Join us for the second of our three-part series on Public Education and Race: Latinx Students. You’ll hear from Claudia Rinaldi, Ph.D., and Katherine Tarpley, Esq., two Latinx speakers who have devoted their lives and careers to supporting and advocating for students, including Latinx students, before they become ensnared in the school-to-prison pipeline. Two students from La Colaborativa will also share their experiences and perspectives. Register today here.

If you missed the first in the series, Receivership: Latinx Schools in the Crosshairs, with Dr. Domingo Morel, you can view the video recording here.    → Read More

Receivership: Latinx Schools in the Crosshairs

Save April 27, 7 to 8:30pm for a CPS event with Dr. Domingo Morel, by Zoom.

Join us to hear Domingo Morel, Ph.D., describe the ways state policies such as receivership help expand or diminish political inequality among historically marginalized populations.

Dr. Domingo Morel is the author of Takeover: Race, Education, and American Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2018), which won the W.E.B. Du Bois Distinguished Book Award. He is also co-editor, with Marion Orr, of Latino Mayors: Power and Political Change in the Postindustrial City (Temple University Press, 2018).   → Read More

MCAS graduation test puts immigrant high school students at risk

The decision by state education officials to reinstate the MCAS graduation test in the midst of the pandemic may have jeopardized the futures of thousands of Massachusetts immigrant students, according to an analysis by a retired Northeastern University professor and Citizens for Public Schools board member.

Professor Emeritus Louis Kruger, working with data from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, found that only about one quarter of English learners in 10th grade passed both the English and math MCAS tests last spring. 

In Massachusetts, students must pass both tests to get their diplomas. State officials canceled the requirement for the classes of 2021 and 2022 because of the pandemic, but reinstated it for students in the class of 2023, who were scheduled to take the graduation tests as sophomores in the spring of 2021.

“In this stressful and educationally compromised environment, it is unconscionable for state officials to cling to the MCAS graduation requirement,” said Kruger.   → Read More

What’s New in Bad Ideas from MA DESE? 

With confidence in standardized tests at a low ebb, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) proposes paying kids to care about MCAS. On Friday, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) will consider a Student Achievement Award Program, including a $25 gift certificate for high MCAS scores. This proposal has us in the field shaking our collective heads, wondering what incentive might encourage those who dreamed this up to consider the perspective of actual high-needs students. A $26 gift certificate, perhaps? 

Of the many obstacles to academic success faced by students with disabilities, English Learners, Black and Latinx students, and economically disadvantaged students, the lack of a $25 gift certificate is not on the list. In the context of the unprecedented trauma and dislocation many students have experienced and continue to experience during the pandemic, this proposal is tone deaf.

Tim Wise, a writer and parent of three Cambridge Public School graduates, asks how class dynamics will be affected when one high-scoring kid doesn’t get the recognition and cash while her classmate does because they are a SWD, economically disadvantaged, or an English learner.   → Read More

Register now for CPS’s Annual Meeting, Thursday, November 18, 7pm, by Zoom

Save the evening of Thursday, November 18, to help us honor three dynamic 2021 campaigns for education justice: the Vocational Education Justice Coalition, the Boston Teachers Union Ethnic Studies Now! organizing committee; and MCAS conscientious objectors (educators).

CPS members and non-members are welcome!

Register and learn more here.    → Read More

What’s your MCAS story?

When students, educators & parents share their MCAS stories, it shows they’re not alone and empowers everyone. We will post stories on our blog, Life under MCAS, and on Twitter & Facebook. Please email us your story at   → Read More