Why I Testified on Behalf of the Thrive Act (H.495/S.246)

By Margaret McKenna, former member of Boston School Committee and former Chair DESE

I joined a group of teachers, parents, students, community members, and education leaders at the State House on Wednesday, October 4th to voice my support for the Thrive Act. The six-hour session included testimony about state takeovers and the use of MCAS as a graduation requirement. These punitive tactics undermine our education system and our democracy—and fail our students.

I maintain that:

  1. Eliminating MCAS as graduation requirement does not impact or change standards nor the ability to assess performance.
  2. The goal of public education is to “prepare people for democratic citizenship.” Our aim is to teach students to think critically and engage in civic life. It would seem nothing is more important today when out democracy is being challenged.
  3. While Massachusetts ranks 1st in nation in terms of performance on national tests, it also ranks 2nd or 3rd in terms of the largest achievement gaps.
  4. The impact of MCAS on people of color, low income and students with disabilities is significantly different than for white students. Take, for example, the results of grade 10 scores in 2022. The percent of students who scored proficient: White 67%, Black 42%, Latino 36% and English language learners 17%
  5. If we look at the history of ELL and the ”English-only mandate“ that was in force for 17 years, we can see why this may be the case. It was not until 2019 that we saw ELL and bilingual programs again and the results have been dramatic. The state has real responsibility to accelerate training of teachers to meet this need.
  6. In spite of the significant impact MCAS has had on underrepresented minorities, last August the DESE voted to raise the cut score. At the time it was understood that “more students will fail,” but no course of action was set forth as a remedy.
  7. The decision to raise the score was done in spite of increasing concern for the students’ mental health.

The country needs innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship. It would appear that the $30 million spent annually on MCAS could be better spent than on the narrow focus of the tests.

People who testified for the Thrive Act were not just there because of what they were against. They were just as clear about what they are for: improving learning environments for students, building capacity for local, democratic school leadership, and rethinking assessment. They spoke in favor of schools that focus on the whole child, inspire a love of learning and teach a wide array of skills, are responsive to teachers, students, and families, and of assessment models that encourage creativity and real-world problem-solving, as well as acknowledge different types of learners. 

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Margaret McKenna is a member of the Boston Ward 4 Democratic Committee.

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