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Council in the News

Influential Collective Seeks to Derail MCAS Question

In Memo To AG, Critics Say Ballot Measure Involves Two Questions


BOSTON, AUG. 23, 2023…..Saying it improperly mixes two unrelated topics, nearly 20 education and business leaders are calling on the attorney general not to certify as ballot eligible an initiative petition removing the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) exam as a high school graduation requirement.

Leaders of the organization behind the ballot question, in turn, have accused their opponents of “desperate political maneuvering.”

memo sent to Attorney General Andrea Campbell Friday says she should not certify the petition filed by the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) because it asks voters two different policy questions and therefore “fails” the “relatedness requirement” in the state constitution and that has been cited to stop ballot initiatives in the past.

Campbell has until Sept. 6 to issue certification decisions on ballot initiatives.

“This proposed ballot question fails to meet the constitutional requirement for initiative petitions,” High Tech Council President Chris Anderson, a former chair of the state Board of Education, said in a statement. “The High Tech Council also stands firmly opposed to the substance of this proposal, which would reverse three decades of progress for kids in every zip code, jeopardize the futures of Massachusetts high school graduates, endanger the state’s standing as a national leader in education, and put the state’s economy at a further competitive disadvantage.”

The memo was signed by former Lt. Gov. Tim Murray in his capacity as president and CEO of the Worcester Chamber of Commerce; former education secretaries James Peyser and Paul Reville; James Rooney, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce; Edward Lambert Jr., executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education; and Michael Contompasis, former superintendent of Boston Public Schools, among others.

The MTA’s proposed ballot question eliminates the MCAS graduation requirement and instead looks to implement a locally developed certification of academic proficiency. MTA President Max Page and Vice President Deb McCarthy said MCAS proponents are presenting “unconvincing arguments” to Campbell.

“The list of those trying to stop this initiative includes the same people who have long tried to undermine our public education system with privately operated charter schools and spent millions of dollars trying to protect billionaires from having to pay their fair share to support outstanding public schools,” Page and McCarthy said in a joint statement to the News Service. “We trust the voters of Massachusetts to make the right decision on this issue.”

The two-pronged approach to MTA’s proposed ballot question is at the crux of the issue raised in the memo to Campbell, which suggests voters could be torn between supporting one aspect and not the other. Voters, as a result, are put in an “impossible position,” the memo states.

The second part of MTA’s question, which calls for students to satisfactorily complete coursework that’s “certified by the student’s district as showing mastery of the skills, competencies, and knowledge contained in the state academic standards and curriculum frameworks in the areas measures by the MCAS high school tests,” limits local decision making, the memo claims.

“A given voter might favor eliminating a statewide mandate that students pass the MCAS to graduate, but believe that local school boards should have the freedom to adopt a standardized-testing requirement in addition to, or in lieu of, ‘satisfactorily completing coursework,'” the memo states. “Though it is not explicit about it, through its singular focus on ‘coursework’ the Initiative Petition would preclude an individual school district itself deciding to rely, in whole or part, on a student’s performance on the MCAS (or some other standardized test) in deciding whether the student has ‘demonstrated mastery of a common core of skills, competencies and knowledge.’ “

MTA leaders pushed back, arguing school districts under their ballot question will have the freedom to decide how to gauge what satisfactory completion of coursework entails. The current system of relying on a standardized test to measure coursework is “deeply unfair,” Page and McCarthy said in their statement.

“This ballot initiative restores value to all the work a student does over the course of a high school career,” Page and McCarthy said. “Fearing that voters will replace the MCAS graduation requirement with a more accurate measure of what students are capable of, opponents of the ballot question are engaging in desperate political maneuvering.”