PRINGFIELD – A few days after the state announced that all but 10 percent of seniors have passed the MCAS, some communities with higher failure rates are facing increasing pressure and say they may defy the state by giving diplomas to students who don’t pass the test.
Firing back, State Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll – who has said that such so-called ”local diplomas” are illegal – said he’ll order superintendents to produce a list of every student who receives a diploma this spring so that the state can verify with its own records that all of those students passed MCAS. Districts that give diplomas to students without Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System credentials would be ordered to nullify them, he said.
”We’re clearly not going to sit back and just allow them to do this after we’ve so carefully established standards,” Driscoll said.
In Springfield yesterday, Mayor Michael Albano held a news conference where he vowed to try to persuade fellow school committee members tonight to award diplomas to seniors who meet local graduation requirements, but don’t pass the MCAS. Roughly 350 Springfield seniors – or 31 percent – have not passed.
”I think a message would be sent here, across the Commonwealth, that Springfield cares about its students, cares about a quality education, and is not going to rely on a high-stakes test, high-risk test that leaves students behind,” said Albano, who was surrounded by area clergy and officials from the local teachers union.
So far, except for Cambridge, the seven districts that have voted to award local diplomas are small and many of them in the western part of the state. Springfield would be the first large urban district – the kind of district whose students state officials say education reform and the MCAS requirement were most intended to help – to join the ranks of those defying the state.
At least one school committee member in Lawrence, where 44 percent of seniors haven’t passed, also said he'd push to award local diplomas.
Last week, the Newburyport School Committee voted 6-0 to award diplomas to students who failed the MCAS but satisfied local requirements. The committee, however, said it will rethink its position if courts uphold the MCAS graduation requirement. Eight seniors have sued the state, alleging that it does not have the authority to use MCAS to deny diplomas.
This year’s seniors are the first who must pass the English and math sections of the MCAS in order to graduate. Roughly 6,000 students have not met the requirement.
Driscoll has said that districts that give diplomas to students who don’t pass MCAS could lose state money or end up in court. He says that such diplomas do a disservice to students who passed the MCAS as well as those who didn’t. ”They can think their standards were fine, but I have thousands of young people with families now who are dying in the workplace because they don’t have the skills,” Driscoll said.
Also yesterday, Driscoll sent memos to superintendents outlining opportunities for seniors who didn’t pass the test, from trying to get a waiver of the requirement, to finding jobs this summer, to taking MCAS remediation in community colleges in the fall. In addition, Driscoll said, the Army and Navy would accept students as long as they commit to earning a diploma within one year. The other branches of the military require a diploma.
Globe correspondent Eric Goldscheider and Anand Vaishnav of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.