Bay State mulling changes to high school standardized tests

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MALDEN, MASS. — Massachusetts education officials plan to decide over the next year or so whether to shift the 10th grade standardized test that serves as a graduation requirement into the 11th grade or potentially add an 11th grade test.

After a discussion at a Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting on Tuesday, Mitchell Chester, the state’s education commissioner, said the current 10th grade competency test evaluates students’ abilities to graduate high school but assessing their real-world or higher education prospects might require testing closer to graduation.

“That raises the question of do we need a testing program that perhaps is both 10th and 11th grade, perhaps is only one grade? And so that’s an open question,” Chester told the News Service. He said, “We’ll have to make that decision within the next year or so.”

The competency tests in math, English and science that Massachusetts public school students must pass to graduate high school are taken their sophomore years by statute, according to Chester.

Students are tested at other grade levels to assess the performance of schools and districts without direct ramifications on individual students’ educational advancement.

Chester told the News Service he is not “the legal expert” to say whether the state could add a test for high school juniors without changing the law.

Deputy Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeff Wulfson reeled off a list of considerations education officials are giving to high school testing.

“What science subjects we’ll be including, whether we should add history and social science to the competency determination, whether we should be adding an 11th grade test, whether we should be moving in the direction of moving 10th-grade competency determination to 11th grade,” Wulfson said. “Lots of issues that we have been discussing with the field.”

Chester said officials would “probably” determine within about a year whether the state should add history and social sciences to the graduation requirement, but he does not want to be “penned down to that specifically.”

“We’re just exploring our options for what the future of our high school testing program looks like,” Chester said.

The state is in the midst of developing a new standardized test, dubbed MCAS 2.0 or next-generation MCAS, and Chester has recommended the class currently in the eighth grade be the first group of students to take the new high stakes sophomore year exam in 2019.

Saying proficiency rates have “drifted upwards,” Education Secretary James Peyser, an appointee of Gov. Charlie Baker, said the state should consider making the test more challenging.

“It’s pretty clear that the proficiency on 10th grade is not necessarily as strong an indicator as we’d like it to be of future success,” Peyser said. “It would be a shame, I think, if we went through this process of developing the assessment without thinking about the standard setting for where the competency determination should be, and pushing ourselves and the field to higher expectations.”

According to the department, the percent of students scoring proficient or higher on the 10th grade MCAS remained at 91 percent in English/language arts, fell 1 point in math to 78 percent, and rose 1 point in science and technology/engineering to 73 percent.

Roland Fryer Jr., a Harvard University economics professor and member of the board, said he is interested in a “richer assessment” and data to measure college performance and whether former students are “employed or in poverty.”

Standardized test results were released by the education department on Monday. The results pushed Brighton High School and Excel High School in Boston into level four – the lowest grade above state receivership – along with Mary Fonseca Elementary School in Fall River.

Bentley Academy Horace Mann Charter School in Salem, Spark Academy in Lawrence and William N. DeBerry Elementary School in Springfield were elevated out of level four, according to the department.

— Written by Andy Metzger

Copyright State House News Service