BOSTON, Mass. (WWLP) – A bipartisan group of Massachusetts legislators has sent a letter to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Commissioner Jeffrey Riley and the members of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voicing their disapproval of a proposal to raise MCAS passing scores required for high school graduation.

The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) is a standardized test that mandates that all students in the tested grades (3-8 & 10th grades) who are educated with Massachusetts public funds are required to participate. The testing covers English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Technology Engineering. High school seniors must pass all tests in order to receive a diploma. Students are given multiple opportunities to take the exams before graduation.

The MCAS has faced opposition from parents, teachers, school administrators, and legislators since its inception in 1993, citing that teachers must be focused on “teaching to the test” to the loss of other subjects including physical education, art, and music.

The Board is scheduled to consider whether to “establish a new competency determination standard in English Language Arts, mathematics, and science and technology/engineering for students in the classes of 2026-2029,” at their meeting on June 28.

State Senators Jo Comerford (D – Northampton) and Pat Jehlen (D – Somerville) and Representative Jim Hawkins (D – Attleboro) issued a news release explaining why they sent the letter and their pleasure in how many members of the legislature signed on with their support.

Comerford said she felt a responsibility, as an elected official, to speak to the appointed board members on behalf of the many constituents who have expressed concerns about the unfairness and destructive educational impact of the high-stakes MCAS. 

Jehlen added, “Raising the cutoff score for high school graduation will make it harder for our most vulnerable students to get diplomas, limiting their opportunities for jobs and military service. Their schools will focus even more on test preparation; students won’t have the chance to develop skills in collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.”

“Raising the passing score forces even more teaching to the test,” said Hawkins. “And it penalizes the very students who have had the hardest challenges during the pandemic.”

The legislators’ letter says, in part, “If the state’s goal is equity, this is the wrong way to go. Raising MCAS passing scores is likely to intensify, not reverse, the negative consequences of 24 years of the high-stakes MCAS. The negative consequences would be the most onerous for groups of students who already suffer and were disproportionately harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially English learners and students with disabilities as well as Black and Latinx students. It is worth noting that these are the very students the MCAS purports to help.”

Read the full letter and list of signers here.