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Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE)

Competency Determination Standard for High School Graduation: Planning for Class of 2024 and Beyond

To:Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:Jeffrey C. Riley, Commissioner
Date:October 18, 2019

At the October 29 meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board), I will present my plan and anticipated timeline for arriving at a recommendation for a new competency determination (CD) standard for students in the class of 2024 and beyond.

Background on the Competency Determination

The Education Reform Act of 1993 established a new state standard (called the competency determination, or CD) for high school graduation: Students must meet the standards adopted by the Board through regulation and measured by the MCAS in order to be eligible for a Massachusetts high school diploma. The Commonwealth introduced MCAS testing in 1998. Starting with the class of 2003, all graduating students were required to earn the CD by scoring at the Needs Improvement level or higher on the grade 10 ELA and mathematics tests.

The Board subsequently raised the standard for the CD. Students since the class of 2010 must meet the course-taking requirements of an Educational Proficiency Plan (EPP) if they fall short of the Proficient level on the grade 10 ELA or mathematics MCAS tests. They are also required to earn a score of Needs Improvement or higher on one of four high school science and technology/engineering (STE) tests.

Each year since 2003, between 94 and 96 percent of students have earned the CD by the end of 12th grade, even as dropout rates have been cut in half.

Consistent with the Education Reform Act, the Board has adopted and periodically amended regulations that establish standards for the CD and MCAS appeals. The Department has implemented the program and related policies, including alternate pathways (MCAS-Alt, MCAS appeals) and retest opportunities.

Transition to Next-Generation MCAS Tests

In November 2015, the Board voted to develop a next-generation MCAS testing program, with the intention of revising and upgrading the assessments to provide clear and accurate signals to students about whether they are on track for work at the next level, and, in high school, for the expectations of colleges, employers, and civic engagement. The transition to next-generation MCAS tests began with the first administration of new tests in grades 3–8 in spring 2017. The first next-generation high school tests were administered in spring 2019 in grade 10 ELA and mathematics, and in spring 2020 students will take the first next-generation high school tests in STE.

During the transition to next-generation MCAS tests at the high school level, the Board voted to enact an "interim passing standard" for students in the first several classes to take the new high school tests, to ensure fairness, provide opportunity to prepare, and to allow students, families, and educators to become familiar with the new tests before revisiting the requirements for the CD. The interim standard is defined as a similar level of achievement to the required standard on the legacy tests: 240 (Proficient), or 220 (Needs Improvement) and the fulfillment of the requirements of an EPP.

In addition, the Board is currently considering whether to extend the interim passing standard for an additional year, through the class of 2023, so that students in the class of 2024 would be the first students who would be held to a new graduation standard. The class of 2024 will enter grade 9 in the fall of 2020.

In order to provide adequate notice to students about the graduation requirement for their class, and to take the time to fully consider all the factors involved, I will engage and consult with stakeholders and the public before presenting my recommendations to the Board in the spring of 2020. It is critical that we gather information from representatives across the education, business, and community sectors as we decide how we will define a new competency determination and how it will be implemented.

As part of the engagement process, I plan to convene an advisory committee—composed of classroom teachers, educational administrators, policymakers, representatives from higher education, and other stakeholders—to assist me in making my recommendation to you. The committee will consider key questions such as the following:

  • What do students need to be prepared for beyond high school?
  • What can student performance on the assessments tell us about their ability to be successful in the future?
  • How can we best support all students, including English learners and students with disabilities, in acquiring and demonstrating the skills and knowledge needed to graduate from high school?

I provide a proposed timeline below for discussion. Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson and Associate Commissioner Michol Stapel will join us at the October 29 meeting for this initial discussion.

Proposed timeline

November–December 2019Finalize advisory committee membership
December Board MeetingUpdate Board on progress
January–March 2020
  • Convene advisory committee
  • Conduct public hearings/engagement with other stakeholder groups
March Board meetingBoard reviews initial/draft recommendations
May Board meetingBoard receives proposed changes to CD regulations and votes on sending the proposal out for public comment
Summer 2020Continued outreach on proposed changes
September 2020Discussion and vote on new CD regulations

Last Updated: October 21, 2019

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