Education Reform


1978-1993 | 1994-1998 | 1999-2003 | 2004-2005

Results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed Massachusetts eighth graders ranked second in writing. Acting Commissioner David P. Driscoll noted that "It confirms we can do well compared to other states. But it also reinforces that we have a long way to go to get more students to higher levels of proficiency."

The Department of Education under Interim Commissioner David Driscoll released a study that endorsed the validity, and reliability of MCAS. "I will match the technical results of this test up against any tests in the country," Driscoll said. "The MCAS meets the high standards anyone would set."

The 1999 MCAS results showed little or no improvement over the previous year. In English/language arts, mathematics, and science/technology, the percentage of students scoring in the "Proficient" or "Advanced" levels improved by as much as 4%, stayed the same, or declined by as much as 8%. The history/social science MCAS exams were given for the first time. A full 89% of eighth graders scored in the "Failing" or "Needs Improvement" categories.

Responding to criticism that the MCAS is too demanding and that too many students will fail the test and not be allowed to graduate, the DOE adjusted the passing score for grade ten MCAS. In order to get their diplomas, students in the class of 2003 were now required to score one point above "Failing" on both the English/language arts and the mathematics tests.

In response to criticism that the fourth-grade MCAS test was too long, the board of education has reduced testing for that grade from 13 hours in 1998 to eight hours in 1999 and six hours in 2000. To achieve these reductions, the Department of Education spread parts of the fourth grade test to the fifth grade, reduced the number of test questions, and reduced the number of actual testing sessions.

Commissioner of Education David P. Driscoll issued congratulations to 1,200 students statewide who achieved perfect scores in mathematics, science/technology, history/social science, and/or English/language arts. These students represented the top 1% of those tested statewide.

Members of the Student Coalition for Alternatives to MCAS (SCAM) urged their peers to boycott the first phase of 2000 MCAS testing. Concerns outlined in a SCAM press release included the effect of MCAS on schools with high minority populations, its alleged unreliability as an assessment tool assessment, and the loss of course time to test preparation.

Under new regulations passed by the Department of Education, students with limited English proficiency could now use bilingual dictionaries and electronic translators that provided word-to-word translations, but not definitions.

Since Massachusetts education reform began in 1993, average spending per student increased by $2,079 per year. But the gap in per student spending between districts grew by 11%. In the Rowe District, spending increased by $11,336 dollars from 1993-94 to 1998-99, to an average of $17,078 per student. In the Mount Greylock District, spending increased only $648 during the same period, to an average of $7,984 per student.

Massachusetts students scored an average of 511 on the verbal portion and 513 on the math section of the 2000 SAT, both marking ten-year highs for students in the state. The combined scores represented the highest total in the nation among states with large percentages of students taking the exam. Massachusetts students also scored highest on the Advanced Placement (AP) tests among large states taking the exam, with 74% of students scoring at 3 or above.

In 1998-99, some 1,326 students in Massachusetts public schools were expelled from school for ten days or more, down from 1,334 the previous year. In 1998-99, about 29% of expulsions resulted from weapons possession. Eight percent of those expulsions involved a gun. Some 21% of expulsions resulted from possession of an illegal substance. In 7% of cases, students were expelled for committing felonies outside school. Alternative education was provided for 65% of students expelled.

A study released by Simmons College reports that schools with well-equipped and staffed libraries tend to score higher on MCAS. According to the study, more than 50% of Massachusetts elementary-school nonfiction collections are a decade or more old; some 12% of schools have no library at all. Less than 25% of all elementary schools have a full-time librarian. Massachusetts ranks 49th nationwide in providing schools with libraries.

Newly released scores for the 2000 MCAS exams in Mathematics and English show little or no improvement in average scores. With the exception of the tenth grade English/language arts test, the number of students scoring at the "Proficient" or "Advanced" levels improved slightly; scores in the "Needs Improvement" or "Failing" levels correspondingly declined. Still, scores continue to show a troubling gap between white students and their African American and Latino counterparts.

Some 150 anti-MCAS protesters made their case at a meeting of the Boston School Committee. According to The Boston Globe, the meeting was temporarily halted when one protester, Boston Latin School teacher Steven Fernandez, exceeded a three-minute speaking limit and was threatened with expulsion. Critics decried an imbalance of school funding, which they said put some districts at a disadvantage in MCAS testing. "I believe in standards," Fernandez said. "But what about standardizing resources in schools?"

Almost 90% of public schools failed to achieve expected improvements in MCAS scores from 1999 to 2000. In an effort to increase public support for MCAS, the Cellucci administration has set aside $500,000 for pro-MCAS media advertising. In addition, an MCAS retesting plan approved by the DOE will give tenth graders who fail MCAS four more chances to pass the exam. The most difficult questions will be eliminated from the retests.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association and the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers squared off against the DOE in the court of Judge Patrick King. At issue was a plan by the DOE to force math teachers in schools that underperformed on the MCAS mathematics test to take math aptitude tests. Some 60% of fourth graders, 66% of eight graders, and 67% of tenth graders statewide scored in the "Needs Improvement" or "Failing" levels on the 2000 MCAS mathematics exam.

High school sophomores took MCAS for the first time knowing that their scores would count toward their graduation requirement. To graduate in 2003, the current crop of sophomores must pass the MCAS math and English exams. Any sophomore failing either test this time will get four more opportunities to make the grade. Those who repeat the tests will find them easier to ensure a higher success rate, the most difficult questions will be eliminated.

Low MCAS scores among the state's Latino students sparked debate over the viability of bilingual education. Contending that bilingual education programs prevent Latino students from gaining facility with English, Massachusetts State Senator Guy Glodis (D, Worcester) introduced a bill to replace bilingual education with English immersion. Supporters of bilingual education called for improvements in the current system. About 79% of Latino sophomores failed the 2000 MCAS math test.

The results of the 2000 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) math test showed Massachusetts and Minnesota fourth graders tied for the nation's highest scores. Bay State eighth graders also scored near the top in the nation on NAEP math. Massachusetts governor Jane Swift linked the implementation of Education Reform Act of 1993 to the high scores.

Massachusetts tenth graders showed remarkable improvement in their 2000 mathematics and English/language arts scores. The 10th grade passing rate in mathematics improved from 55% to 75%; the passing rate for English/language arts improved from 66% to 82%. This was the first time that tenth grade MCAS scores would count toward student graduation requirements. MCAS supporters attributed improved scores to a consequent seriousness in tenth graders' attitudes about the exam.

State Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll sent a letter warning the Hampshire Regional School District not to issue diplomas to seniors who fail MCAS. The warning came in response to Hampshire's decision to give diplomas to students who have completed their course of study but failed the high-stakes exam. Hampshire Superintendent William G. Erickson insisted that such a practice is legal under state education laws.

In an editorial in the Providence Journal, David A. Mittle, Jr. charged that Massachusetts "cooked the books" on tenth grade MCAS scores. According to Mittle, dramatic improvements in tenth grade scores could be attributed in part to a high rate of retention among ninth graders the previous year. Because many of the students who would have scored poorly on MCAS were held back, Mittle contended, tenth grade MCAS scores were artificially inflated.

High school seniors who do not reach a passing grade of 220 on MCAS can now appeal their case for graduation to the DOE. To be considered for appeal, students will need to have taken the grade 10 MCAS at least three times; scored at least a 216 on the exam at least once; maintained at least a 95 percent attendance level during the previous school year and the year of the appeal; and participated in the tutoring and academic support services made available by their school.Students who meet graduation requirements will take a competency evaluation in the summer.

Massachusetts is one of 12 states selected to receive funding for the Reading First program, which aims to ensure that all students can read at or above grade level by the end of third grade. The state will receive $100 million over six years to implement one of the key goals of the No Child Left Behind Act.


Following lively debates from elected officials and members of the public about how charter schools are funded, the DOE grants five new charter schools to open over the next two years.

According to the DOE 90% of the class of 2003 have passed both the English and math sections of the MCAS. Gaps remain, however, as only 75% of black students and 70% of Hispanic students passed, compared to 94% of Caucasians. Similarly, only 79% in urban communities passed compared to 94% in non-urban areas.

Schools submit performance reports to the DOE for the first time.


1978-1993 | 1994-1998 | 1999-2003 | 2004-2005