The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Statement by James A. Peyser on Raising High School Graduation Standards
May 23, 2006
When we adopted 220 as a minimum graduation standard six years ago, we did so knowing full well that it was far below the level of knowledge and skill our students would need for real success in higher education and today's workplace. We established 220 as the threshold because we knew it would be a challenge to get all students above that line by the end of 12th grade. In 1999, the year before the Board adopted the 220 standard, over half of 10th graders failed the math portion of MCAS and just under 40 percent failed the English section. Now that over 80 percent of the state's sophomores are exceeding the 220 bar in both English and math on their first attempt, it is time to raise our sights beyond basic competence to focus on proficiency and college readiness.
Today we propose to increase to the scaled score needed to automatically earn a competency determination from 220 to 240, for both English and math, beginning with the class of 2009. As you know, 240 is the threshold of the MCAS proficiency category. Students who do not reach 240 would receive an "educational proficiency plan" from their school, describing the coursework they will have to take during their junior and senior years to address their academic weaknesses and to help them meet higher-level standards - up to and including standards for college readiness. Students in this group who successfully complete the prescribed coursework and score at least 220 on both the English and math portions of MCAS, would also earn a competency determination.
In addition to raising the minimum standard for high school graduation, we propose to revise and reposition the Certificate of Mastery. Today the Certificate of Mastery recognizes the advanced achievement of a relatively small portion of graduating seniors. In its new form, the Certificate of Mastery, along with the appropriate set of incentives for both schools and students, would serve as the standard for college readiness to which we expect virtually all students will aspire over time. Under the proposal before us today, students would earn a Certificate of Mastery by achieving at least a 240 on each 10th grade MCAS test, passing a statewide Algebra II test, successfully completing a college preparatory curriculum consistent with a model approved by the Board, and demonstrating the ability to write at a level required for entry to college.
To ensure that we continue to honor the achievement of our highest performing students, we will establish a Certificate of Mastery with Distinction, based on the criteria currently used for the Certificate of Mastery.
As I'm sure you are all aware, there are a handful of municipal and district leaders who have recently questioned whether the current 220 standard is too high. To these critics, our deliberation today on raising the standard must seem premature, at best. In my view, however, we cannot afford to wait. And we cannot afford to lull ourselves into a sense of complacency, based on our success in getting the vast majority of students over the 220 bar. A growing percentage of Massachusetts' high school students are easily exceeding 220, yet their preparedness for college and the modern workplace - or more accurately, their lack thereof - seems hardly changed. This is simply unacceptable. We have largely succeeded in ensuring that all high school graduates in the Commonwealth acquire certain basic skills in reading, writing and math. However, we have not yet ensured that all high school graduates reach the level of knowledge and skill essential for success in higher education or work in a global labor market. To meet this challenge, we must not abandon or lower our standards; we must thoughtfully, but boldly, raise them.