Lawsuit Challenges MCAS Grad. Rule

K-12 Testing

Legal advocates have filed a federal court lawsuit on behalf of high school students seeking to stop the use of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) exams as a sole graduation hurdle. Plaintiffs seek to replace the MCAS tests with a valid assessment system containing multiple measures as called for in the Massachusetts Education Reform Act (MERA), to ensure those assessments are used to improve learning, and to ensure professional development of educators so they are prepared to adequately teach all students.


Beginning with this year’s senior class, students must pass the math and language arts MCAS tests to graduate. The state has filed a motion to dismiss the case.


The class action complaint charges that the state has violated the U.S. and Massachusetts constitutions, MERA, and several federal laws in the development and use of the MCAS tests. It claims:


• State officials violated MERA by requiring a single test for graduation rather than the multiple measures that state law says are to be used to evaluate students and schools.
• The Mass. Board of Education was slow to adopt curriculum standards on which the tests were to be based, giving teachers insufficient time to align curriculum with the standards and thus denying students a fair opportunity to learn what they would be tested on.
• The state did not fulfil its legal duty to ensure that all students received adequate curriculum and instruction by, for example, failing to ensure all students were taught by fully certified teachers.
• The state failed to assist low-performing schools by conducting detailed reviews of only 12 of 259 schools identified as low scoring.
• The state did not provide effective instructional programs to students with Limited English Proficiency, with special needs, or in vocational programs. Those students have generally failed the MCAS exams at three times the rates of white students in regular classrooms and programs. African American and Latino students have similarly high failure rates.
• The state did not develop assessments that met MERA requirements to include “consideration of work samples, projects and portfolios.”
• The MCAS lacks validity due to flaws in its development and the failure of the state to conduct necessary validity studies.
• Rather than being a criterion referenced exam, as required by MERA, MCAS is by design a norm-referenced test (see Examiner, Summer 2002).
• Though African American and Latino students performed worse on the MCAS than on two other commercial standardized tests when compared to white students, the state failed to act on this finding, rendering it derelict in its duty to ensure an unbiased exam.
• The state’s dereliction of duty has caused significant numbers of racial and ethnic minority students to fail and to leave school.
• The complaint is on the web at