SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) — In August, the 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.”
State Senator Joanne 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.
Now, educators will begin preparing freshman classes to meet the new assessment standards in 2026.
Modesto Montero, executive director of Springfield’s Libertas Academy, tells Western Mass News that while they’re up to the challenge, they recognize the Class of 2026 might have a hard time adapting.
“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.”
“Secondly, I want to make sure that we’re not just thinking about raising the standard for our students. But we are also thinking about how we can offer them the right support.”
Comparing current high school students to 3rd through 8th graders, while 3rd through 8th graders showed a 6 percent increase in meeting or exceeding expectations in math, and 10th graders a 2 percent increase
Results in English declined across the board, showing a 5% drop in students in grades 3-8 and a 6% drop in grade 10.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association says MCAS has been responsible for turning over 50,000 high school hopefuls into high school dropouts over the past 10 years.
The president of the MTA max site told Western Mass News that raising standards could contribute to this statistic.
“We think MCAS is a very limited and blunt tool to measure all the things that we hope schools will do. We are opposed to increasing the score any further, which will disadvantage more students each year.”
One side of concern brings with it a possible change in curriculum. 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 is one of our biggest complaints that our members of the Massachusetts Teachers Association have.”
Montero tells 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 have college career readiness in mind to set themselves up for success.”
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 tells 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 doing, 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.”
Nicole Godard is a teacher at Hampden Charter. She says changes to MCAS aren’t new, and while she understands the concerns of students and parents, she adds 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.”
The new requirements will apply to classes from 2026 to 2030. Officials will review the standards again afterwards and determine if raising the assessment standards was the right decision.
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