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. “State officials should admit their mistake and waive the MCAS graduation requirement for the class of 2023 before many more become so discouraged that they give up on school.”

Kruger noted that the students put at risk by the test requirement “are precisely the groups that state officials say they are trying to help by giving the MCAS during the pandemic.” 

State officials are now talking about raising MCAS passing scores, which would make it even harder for students to get their diplomas.

Students who did not pass the tests can try again, but the low passing rate puts them at risk of dropping out because they feel there’s no point in staying in school, or of finishing high school without the diploma that is essential to getting a good job.

In the pre-pandemic class of 2020, about half of English learners passed both the MCAS English and math tests as high school sophomores, twice as many as in the class of 2023, Kruger discovered.

The reason so few English learners passed the two key tests, Kruger found, is a combination of two factors: Many students did not take the tests at all, and of those who did, many fewer passed than in former years.

Citizens for Public Schools is a 40-year old statewide organization that works for better and more equitable funding and more valid ways to assess students and schools.

CPS Executive Director Lisa Guisbond noted that Massachusetts is one of only 10 states that still require students to pass a graduation test. Other states have canceled their test requirements because they found the test was not a valid reflection of student skills and led some students to drop out. 

Prof. Kruger’s full statement is here.