MA ballot measure would end MCAS graduation requirement

A group of graduates in black caps and gowns are celebrating by throwing their graduation caps into the air. The scene is festive and takes place under a large tent.

States are increasingly dropping high school standardized exit exams in favor of alternative assessment methods. In 2014, 24 states required students to pass a standardized test to receive their diploma. Now, only eight maintain the requirement, photo via

Massachusetts voters could face a possible ballot measure this November to end the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System graduation requirement.

Supporters have until July 3 to complete the signature gathering process to put the measure on the ballot, which would keep the standardized tests in place but allow students who fail to still receive a diploma.

Joy Ahmed of Ashland said her son has a learning disability and gets nervous before tests. She thinks the state should use alternative methods to track students’ academic understanding.

“I think it does an injustice for those kiddos to show up every day, put in the work and then not get a diploma when they go to graduate with all the rest of their friends,” Ahmed contended.

Opponents of the ballot measure, including Gov. Maura Healy, said the tests ensure aligned standards statewide and have helped expose learning gaps in underfunded districts. Ahmed countered the state can still collect data on test outcomes, but should not penalize students for their scores.

Data show roughly 700 students each year do not pass the test and do not receive their high school diploma. In 2019, about 40% of those students were English-language learners. More than half were students with disabilities.

Carolyn Scafidi, a retired teacher in Tyngsborough, said her special education students lost about 30 hours of learning and extra support in order to prepare for and take the exam.

“I mean, it would take them practically the whole day,” Scafidi recounted. “We’re talking days and days of MCAS testing, for the math test or the English and Language Arts test. And, you know, it added up to that much time.”

Scafidi argued teachers can provide a better assessment of their students’ comprehension and the test results are more often an indicator of a student’s family income and resources.

A Massachusetts Teachers Association poll found 74% of respondents supported a policy in which students would still take the test but would not need a passing grade to earn their diploma.

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