The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Statement of James A. Peyser on the Release of Lt. Governor Swift's Report on MCAS
January 4, 2001
I congratulate the Lt. Governor on her excellent report and I endorse her recommendations wholeheartedly. The Lt. Governor's report places MCAS in its proper context, as a tool for expanding opportunities for all students and establishing meaningful academic standards. MCAS is not an isolated test. It is a component of a larger system that is helping to drive our school systems toward reform and excellence.
A recent policy paper for Achieve, an independent, bipartisan nonprofit organization created by governors and corporate leaders to help raise standards and performance in American schools, lists three criteria for judging the fairness of so-called high-stakes assessments, like MCAS. According to Achieve, states must ensure that their tests measure what students are expected to learn, including content and skills that go beyond the basics. Second, states must give students multiple opportunities to pass the test. And third, states must allow a reasonable phase-in period of about four years, before the high stakes to kick in. As the Lt. Governor's report clearly shows, Massachusetts is meeting each of these criteria.
MCAS is perhaps the country's most robust assessment instrument, testing students on their ability to apply knowledge and solve problems, in addition to recalling facts. Students who fail either the English or math portion of MCAS in 10th grade will be given four opportunities to pass the test before completing 12th grade. And consequences for students are only now being put in place, four years into the testing program.
The performance standards we have set are reasonable and achievable. To be eligible for high school graduation, students must score just one point above failing on 10th grade material in English and math, only. The issue before us is not whether the standards are fair, but whether we are giving all students a fair shot to meet the standards. The Lt. Governor's report is a great contribution to this vital effort.
The report outlines the steps the state is taking or will take to ensure that the vast majority of students acquire the knowledge and skills they need to meet the standards. Through timely diagnostic information, targeted remediation and accelerated instruction, multiple test-taking opportunities, a regional appeals process, flexible accommodations for special needs and non-special needs students, and continuing learning opportunities beyond 12th grade, our students can meet the MCAS challenge.
I thank the Lt. Governor for her leadership and I look forward to working with her to ensure full implementation of these recommendations.