News on MCAS Scores

Although many of us tuned in this week to learn the results of the 2012 MCAS exams and were pleased to find continued growth in the number of 10th grade students reaching proficiency in ELA (88%) and math (78%), there are some results that aren’t getting as much attention as these deserve.  First, we should all be concerned that 3rd grade reading results remained flat at 61% and 5th grade ELA results dropped from 67% to 61%.  Although the achievement gap narrowing is good news, the bad news is that in the past 5 years the gap between African American and Latino students and white students in 10th grade math only decreased by 5 points for African American students and 3 points for Latino students.  It’s also important to remember that the MCAS is a test of basic skills – not an indicator of whether or not these students are prepared to succeed in college and the workforce – that must change.

Too many students graduate from high school in Massachusetts (which requires passing the 10th grade MCAS) with the understandable assumption that their diploma means they are ready for college-level work only to find that they aren’t. A report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found that 37% of the public high school class of 2005 who attended public college in Massachusetts had to enroll in at least once remedial course during their first semester with 15% enrolling in at least two.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than half of the students needing remediation in math or reading do not complete an associates or bachelor degree.

With an anticipated 68% of jobs in Massachusetts requiring a career certificate or degree by 2018, we need to do a better job of preparing students to achieve these credentials.   The new math and English education standards (Massachusetts Common Core State Standards) being implemented in our schools this year are better aligned with college and workforce expectations.  A critical next step is developing more sophisticated assessments that gauge how well students stack up against the demands of the 21st century economy.

MBAE hopes that since Massachusetts is leading the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) consortium of 26 states that is developing assessments aligned with the new standards, that these assessments will give us a true measure of readiness for success in college and career.   We all must hold Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester, who is chairing PARCC, to his commitment to ensuring that the new tests are “more rigorous and challenging” than the current exams in English Language Arts and mathematics and his pledge to walk away from anything that is not stronger than the current MCAS.

As these new assessments become available the business community will also play a vital role in ensuring expectations remain high.  Ensuring students are prepared for college and the workforce is critical to our businesses and our state’s economy.

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