Mass. Students Take MCAS to Court

K-12 Testing

An attempt to suspend the use of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests to deny diplomas to students this spring has been denied. Suffolk Superior Court Judge Margot Botsford turned down the student plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction. Plaintiffs are seeking an expedited appeal in state court at the same time their lawyers are pressing federal court claims.


Eight students originally filed a federal suit last September, charging the state had violated its 1993 Education Reform Act by implementing a single graduation test when the law called for multiple forms of assessment. The federal case also claims that the test discriminates against minorities, limited-English speakers and special needs students, and deprived students of due process because they hadn’t been taught the material tested on the MCAS exam.


Judge Michael Ponsor said some issues in the case needed to be dealt with in state court first but urged the parties to return to him if the case got bogged down. Judge Ponsor expressed sympathy for the students and said the case raises pressing questions about whether the MCAS test is a “benefit or burden” on students who haven’t been prepared. Plaintiffs’ attorneys then filed in state court, followed by the attempt at an injunction.


Though she denied the request for an injunction, Judge Botsford said the case as a whole paints “a picture that has troubling aspects.” She pointed to changes in the state’s curriculum frameworks that have made it difficult for teachers to cover the tests’ content. Botsford also observed, “[I]t is the students who are paying the price at present for the system’s failure to meet its educational obligations.”


Several groups have submitted friend of the court briefs supporting the plaintiffs, including FairTest, the Massachusetts Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education (MassCARE), MassParents and the Center for Collaborative Education.