Getting answers: Concerns about increasing MCAS requirements – Western Massachusetts News | Team Cansler

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) — In August, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, also known as DESE, increased MCAS requirements for the Class of 2026 after schools’ test scores declined during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We propose now to raise the passing bar, which is just a measure of high standards and will do more harm to the very students who have already been disproportionately harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the state senator Joanne Comerford.

Comerford expressed her concerns about the increase in MCAS requirements during a meeting last August. Students are now required to achieve a scaled score of at least 486 on English Language Arts and at least 470 on Science, Technology and Engineering tests. The old thresholds were 472 for English and 486 for math.

Educators will now begin preparing freshman classes to meet the new assessment standards in 2026. Modesto Montero, executive director of Springfield’s Libertas Academy, told Western Mass News that while they’re up to the challenge, acknowledging the Class of 2026 may have a tough time adjusting.

“Two things come to mind, right? The first is the timing of raising the standard. We are just beginning the recovery process after a challenging few years in response to a global pandemic that has resulted in significant learning losses… The second part is that I want to make sure we’re not just thinking about raising the standard for ours Students, but we’re also thinking about how to provide them with the right support,” explained Montero.

Comparing current high school students to third through eighth graders, while students in grades three through eight showed a 6 percent increase in meeting or exceeding expectations in math, and tenth graders showed a 2 percent increase. English scores declined across the board, showing a five percent drop in students in grades three through and a six percent drop in grade 10.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association said MCAS has been responsible for turning over 50,000 high school hopefuls into high school dropouts over the past 10 years. MTA President Max Page told Western Mass News that raising standards could contribute to that statistic.

“We think MCAS is a very limited and blunt tool to measure all the things that we hope schools will do. We’re opposed to increasing the score any further, which would disadvantage more students each year,” Page said.

One concern Page has raised is a possible curriculum change. He worries that teachers will have to adjust their training to offer more MCAS preparation to keep up with the new demands.

“MCAS is already forcing curriculum narrowing and also putting pressure on school districts, schools and individual educators to focus on post-test teaching. It’s one of our biggest complaints that our members of the Massachusetts Teachers Association have,” Page noted.

Montero told Western Mass News that maintaining a balanced educational environment is critical to preparing children for life after high school.

“It’s not just about doing well at MCAS. It’s about preparing our kids for post-secondary plans, so academic support, make sure they’re college-career ready to ensure your own success,” added Montero.

While schools have until 2026 to prepare children for the requirements for higher scores, one school appears to be ahead of the curve. Hampden Charter received some of the best MCAS scores in the state. Hampden Charter CEO Tarkan Topcuoglu told Western Mass News how they prepare their students.

“We started diagnostic tests earlier this year to find out their weaknesses. In each new assessment period, we review with our students where they are and how they are performing, and we address their weaknesses with new strategies and tutoring programs that we run in the classroom, or study halls after school, or on Saturdays, or online,” Topcuoglu said .

Nicole Godard is a teacher at Hampden Charter. She said changes to MCAS aren’t new, and while she understands the concerns of students and parents, she added that preparing children for the next level is another challenge.

“I would say that as we see these metrics changing and what the 21st century needs, we have responded and would respond without MCAS telling us what that looks like,” Godard said.

Comerford expressed her concerns about the increase in MCAS requirements during a meeting last August. Students are now required to achieve a scaled score of at least 486 on English Language Arts and at least 470 on Science, Technology and Engineering tests. The old thresholds were 472 for English and 486 for math.

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