New Report: Massachusetts High School Exit Exam Is Harmful and Ineffective

“Thrive Act” Before State Legislature Would Remove High-Stakes Consequences

For further information contact: Harry Feder, FairTest,, 917-273-8939

Lisa Guisbond, Citizens for Public Schools,, 617-959-2371

for immediate release, Wednesday, April 18, 2023

The use of Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) scores to make critical decisions about students, schools, and school districts has had a harmful effect on all three, according to a report by backers of the “Thrive Act.” The new legislation aims to stop the damage and improve educational quality and equity for all Massachusetts students. The bill would keep MCAS testing for federal accountability purposes but end the MCAS graduation requirement. And it would stop stake takeovers of local schools and districts based on scores.

The report, Lessons Learned, was co-authored by Citizens for Public Schools, a Massachusetts advocacy organization, and the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest).

“Children are being harmed by the misguided use of MCAS standardized test scores as a barrier to graduation and a bludgeon against schools and districts that educate our most vulnerable students,” said Lisa Guisbond, executive director of Citizens for Public Schools. “Our report documents the problems and points the way to practices that could improve education.”

According to FairTest, Massachusetts is one of only eight states that currently ties high school graduation to a standardized test.  State officials in Massachusetts also have the power to take control of school districts and individual schools that rank low on a measure that is mostly made up of MCAS scores. While federal law requires statewide assessments in all states that receive federal school funding, the law gives considerable leeway to states as to how to use the scores.

Lessons Learned includes multiple examples of the failure of MCAS-focused accountability, including:

Lessons Learned also refutes the claim that the high-stakes uses of MCAS were responsible for raising Massachusetts student achievement to the top rank among all states. Rather, education funding patterns correlate to the rise and fall of test scores: The Education Reform Act of 1993 dramatically raised state funding for the poorest school districts. Students’ scores rose as funding increased but leveled off when funding leveled off. There has been some backsliding since passage of a new law in 2010 that further raised the stakes for MCAS scores by allowing the state to take over low-scoring districts and schools.

Lessons Learned also explores a better approach to assessing student learning that develops the skills needed for success in the modern world of work. Called “performance assessment,” it gives students real problems to tackle using the knowledge and skills they learn in class. It has been used successfully in some school districts that make up the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment. In New York, a group of schools that use performance assessments to graduate students have a waiver from most state exams, so they don’t have to pour time and effort into test prep. Studies have shown that students graduating from those New York schools have achieved superior results to comparable students graduating from traditional exit exam-based schools.

“The MCAS makes it impossible to pursue these avenues for deeper learning,” said Harry Feder, Executive Director of FairTest. “The MCAS leaves victims in its wake and doesn’t produce quality education for the modern era.”

Under the Thrive Act,, students would still take the MCAS, but they would not need a passing scores to receive a diploma. Instead, schools will certify students for graduation if they demonstrate mastery of the skills and knowledge required by state standards.

The Thrive Act would replace state receivership of low-scoring districts with a new system that takes advantage of local strengths to improve schools. It would also create a commission to draw up plans for upgrading the state’s school and district accountability system.

The CPS/FairTest report Executive Summary can be found at:

Full report at: