The MCAS retest takes about the same time as the original and it has the same number of questions. But the tough questions have been dropped, although school officials say that doesn't mean it's necessarily easier. "They're going to have to get a higher percentage right on the focused re-test in order to pass than they would have on the test with the much harder questions," says Massachusetts Commissioner of Education David Driscoll.
Last month the 22,000 students who failed the MCAS exam in May had their chance at the retest. Their scores will be out in March. For now, though, education officials say that MCAS-lite, with its pared-down questions, continues to be about basic skills. However, that is not comforting to Brookline parent and longtime MCAS opponent Lisa Guisbond. The parent of an eight-year-old boy with a learning disability, Guisbond wonders what a pattern of MCAS tests and retests, if it comes to that, will do to students like her son in the long run. "I really wonder how many of any kind of kid is going to keep coming back for the fourth time or the fifth time to take a test that they've been deemed failures at," she says.
To be certain, the state has stepped up its support for failing students. Last summer Acting Governor Jane Swift pledged $10 million for MCAS remedial support. The results so far are a comprehensive test-prep website and a newly begun framework of community tutors. "We have a ways to go" admits Driscoll, "Certainly we made more progress than I would have thought."
Even so, Guisbond remains wary. "(Students) are having even more time taken away from other learning programs that might be more valuable to them in the long run," she says. And with the prospect of four or five retests, the long run is exactly what many of these students face.