MA School Boards Defy State

K-12 Testing

In a declaration of independence worthy of their colonial forebears, some local Massachusetts school boards are choosing to defend their students rather than obey the dictates of the state Department of Education.


Seven school committees have passed resolutions pledging to award diplomas to all seniors who meet local graduation requirements, regardless of their scores on the high-stakes Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) exam. Responding to urgent appeals and organized pressure from parents and teachers, many more school committees are actively considering similar measures.


These resolutions have put the school boards on a collision course with state officials. More than 6,000 students face denial of a diploma this June, the first year students must pass the English and math MCAS tests to graduate, according to the state’s interpretation of the 1993 Education Reform Act. The percentage of students failing in the cities is far higher than in the more affluent suburbs.


Opponents of the test, including thousands of families in MassCARE (the Massachusetts Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education) contend the state is breaking the law, which called for multiple forms of assessment and sensitivity to different learning styles and ethnic backgrounds. A lawsuit filed in state court this winter makes the same case. (See article below.)


The Massachusetts Association of School Committees voted 97-27 at its annual convention last October to reaffirm the historic diploma-granting authority of local school boards, even in the face of the MCAS. As graduation day approaches, it appears that more school committees will carry out the promise of that vote and decide to grant diplomas. The state Department of Education is using every bullying tactic it can think of: threatening to withhold state funds from defiant school districts, revoke the certification of their superintendents, and prevent students with non-MCAS diplomas from attending state colleges or receiving financial aid. So far, the school boards have held firm in the face of these threats.