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MCAS failure will hold up graduation
By Joanna Massey, Globe Staff Correspondent, 3/6/2003
ow do you tell a high school senior who has fulfilled all his school graduation requirements that he won't be receiving a diploma?
That was the task Brockton High School guidance and adjustment counselors faced last week following the release to school districts of December MCAS retest results. For members of the class of 2003, the retest was the last chance to garner a passing score in time for graduation in June.
In Brockton, there were 212 seniors who needed to pass both the English and math portions of the state exam prior to the fourth round of retests given late last year. While school administrators say about 60 percent of those have now passed one or both sections, there remain close to 100 seniors who will not be able to graduate with their peers unless they receive an MCAS waiver from the state Board of Education. The state officially released the retest scores this week.
''In the next few months, we'll be appealing our brains out,'' said Brockton High School Associate Principal Susan Szachowicz. ''I can't tell you how tough this is on kids that have worked so hard.''
This year's seniors are the first students who are required by state law to pass the exam in order to receive a diploma. Midyear state budget cuts have helped reignite the effort by MCAS opponents to repeal the test's graduation requirement. Last month, demonstrators calling for a moratorium on the graduation requirement rallied outside the State House in Boston.
''The test itself is wrong, and now that there's even less funding for remediation programs, it makes even less sense to force this on our students,'' said Joseph O'Sullivan, president of the Brockton Educators Association, which represents the city's 1,400 teachers. ''I think a lot of people believe (the graduation requirement) should be delayed.''
Until such a change is made, administrators continue to rely on MCAS waivers, which the state awards to students who prove through grades, other test scores, and attendance records that they know enough to graduate. About 400 waivers, including more than 20 in Brockton, have been awarded so far to members of the Class of 2003.
Like school boards in many communities across the state, the Brockton School Committee also has approved the awarding of local certificates of attainment to seniors who meet the school district's graduation requirements but have not passed the MCAS. That vote was approved 4 to 3 last month, according to School Department spokeswoman Jocelyn Meek.
But Szachowicz said the certificates mean little to students who have been working for close to two years to pass MCAS. She fears some students might give up.
''There is something so terribly wrong with this system where kids know in February that they won't be getting a diploma in June; that's just wrong,'' Szachowicz said. ''How do you keep their spirits up and how do you get them to stay? They have hung in with us because they always knew they had that other chance. That's what's different now. We try to be as positive as possible, but the bottom line is that this isn't very positive.''
Last week, Szachowicz led a team of four administrators who hand sorted the retest results for 305 students in English and 531 students in math. Guidance counselors then met individually with each student to give them their scores and discuss their options, including another retest in May, a possible appeal for a state waiver, or the local certificate of attainment.
Teresa Fontes, a guidance counselor who works with bilingual students, said many seniors saw their scores go up, making them eligible for an MCAS waiver appeal with the state.
''I try to start with the positive since many of them passed one section,'' she said. '' There are definitely some who are pretty upset, but I approach it with the idea that most of them are at 218, only a tiny step away from the passing mark of 220.''
Fontes said many of Brockton's bilingual students were taking the test for the first or second time in December.
''Hopefully, by May, with increased familiarity with English and with the test, they'll be able to pass,'' she said.
Joanna Massey can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story ran on page 1 of the Globe South section on 3/6/2003.
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