Greater Boston Education Reports

MCAS Goes to Court
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After years of protest, the controversy over the MCAS exam is about to find some resolution in federal court. Four attorneys recently filed a class action lawsuit against the MCAS exam. The plaintiffs are six students who have failed the test; the defendants are the state’s top education officials. At a press conference to announce the filing, attorney Tom Frongillo said the MCAS exam “as developed, is invalid, unreliable and unfair.”

Next June, Massachusetts high school seniors who have not passed the MCAS test will not receive a diploma. There are still two more chances to take the test, but as of right now, 19 percent of the class of 2003 will graduate empty-handed. That includes a large percentage of black/African American, Hispanic and limited English students, as well as students with disabilities and vocational students. But lawsuit defendant and Board of Education chairman James Peyser says these failing rates show precisely why MCAS is so important. “MCAS is shining a light on the disparities that exist in our current system,” Peyser says. “It is being used, I think, as well as a spur to address those disparities.”

But plaintiffs’ attorney Nadine Cohen says the exam is actually discriminating against “a whole segment of our society.” She points out that the curriculum frameworks - the classroom lessons upon which MCAS is based - were only recently established. Cohen says that meant “the students really didn’t have an opportunity to learn the material.” While Peyser agrees the frameworks have indeed been evolving, he says the fundamental skills students are tested on has not changed.

Meanwhile, for the MCAS generation, the decision on whether or not they will still have to pass the MCAS test in order to graduate is now in the hands of a Springfield judge, who will be pressed to render a decision before graduation day, 2003.