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MCAS ballot question: Education groups gear up for contentious campaign


Two filed ballot initiative petitions would remove the MCAS as a graduation requirement. (Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

A day after the the Massachusetts ballot initiative deadline, education advocates are settling in for a long, heated campaign over the petition to remove the MCAS test as a graduation requirement.

“We’re looking forward to a very exciting campaign and the support that people see from the parents in the community and our coalitions and alliances,” said Massachusetts Teachers Association Vice President Deb McCarthy.

The MTA and a separate group of parents and residents each filed a ballot initiative petition to remove the longstanding MCAS test as a high school graduation requirement in the state ahead of the Aug 2 deadline.

The filings must now pass a review by the Attorney General’s office and then gain nearly 75,000 signatures by around mid-November to be put on a statewide ballot.

The MTA noted their Board must still vote at an Aug. 6 whether to launch a campaign to collect signatures and pass the initiative.

“This isn’t getting rid of the MCAS,” McCarthy emphasized. “I hear that, and that’s not true. The MCAS will still be there. This is about allowing all academic learners the opportunity to demonstrate their intelligence. The system that we have in place now harms learners.”

The teachers union is one of many long-running opponents to the test as a graduation requirement, arguing that it disproportionately bars English language learners, minority students, special education students and others from graduating.

McCarthy also noted that students with the means to enroll in private school are not subjected to the MCAS graduation requirement.

The union has indicated seeming strong public support for the initiative, releasing results from a Echo Cove Research poll of 800 registered voters aged 21 and older at the end of June showing 73% support for eliminating the MCAS as a graduation requirement.

Advocates, including the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education and the Massachusetts High Technology Council, on the other hand say the ballot initiative would “lower standards” for schools in the state and “endanger the state’s standing as a national leader in education.”

“We are still not doing enough simply by asking children to meet a 10th grade standard in order to get a diploma by 12th grade,” said Mary Tamer, state director of Massachusetts’ Democrats for Education Reform. “And so we really need to ask ourselves, how well are we preparing students for whatever their future is going to look like?”

Tamer said that for the “vast majority” of students passing the MCAS, 60% still need to take remedial courses to be ready for college work. Taking away the MCAS standard, Tamer argued, “further diminishes the value of a Massachusetts diploma.”

MBAE Director Ed Lambert noted a “number of organizations,” along with parents and advocates, are already organizing in opposition to the question.

“If there is going to be a ballot question, I think we look forward to the opportunity to demonstrate that we think parents and families feel the same way we do, that they want high standards for their children and they want schools to meet those standards,” said Lambert.