Ward 4 Democrats Put MCAS to the Test

Forum participants tackle graduation test questions and hear how MCAS effects classroom learning

By Alain Jehlen

“The price of a ticket at a theater is x dollars. The manager uses the function t(x) = 100x – 4×2 to predict t(x), the total ticket sales in dollars. What is the ticket price that results in the maximum ticket sales?”

This is one of several questions from last year’s 10th grade MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) test. It was one of several that the Ward 4 Democratic Party Committee asked audience members to tackle at a public forum on the MCAS graduation test. The forum took place at Simmons University on March 16.

Currently, high school students must pass the MCAS to get their diplomas.

The legislature is considering a proposal to end that requirement. Proponents gathered more than 100,000 signatures to put a proposal on the ballot this November that aims to replace the test with a requirement that local districts certify that their graduates have met the state high school standards. 

Under state law, the legislature has first crack. If legislators don’t take action, supporters of the ballot question can gather roughly 12,500 more signatures and force a vote on election day.

If the question is approved, MCAS will still be administered, but a student will not have to pass the 10th grade test to get a diploma, just as a third grader does not have to pass the third grade MCAS to move on to fourth grade.

The Ward 4 Democratic Party Committee organized the forum to discuss the impacts of MCAS on students and their learning. 

The ticket sales problem is tough, but it was not the first hard question put to participants during the meeting. Before tackling the math portion of the test, they took on the big question: “What do you want your children to get out of school?” 

There’s no one right answer to that one, and a wide range were offered, including the ability to relate to different kinds of people, set high personal expectations, and become responsible citizens.

After working on the ticket sales problem and several other released MCAS math and English questions, the participants discussed whether the skills measured by those questions match up with what they hope children will get out of school. 

Suzie McGlone, an eighth grade teacher at the James W. Hennigan K-8 School, shared that several of her former students from Orchard Gardens K-8 School came back to visit recently and told her, “Your eighth grade [English language arts] ELA class was so much more challenging than the class I’m having right now in ninth grade. We’re only focusing on the [MCAS] test.”

McGlone said when she was a teacher at Orchard Gardens, she was reprimanded and eventually forced out because she did not want to build her instructions around MCAS. 

In addition to McGlone, the forum panelists were Boston Arts Academy tenth grade student Jay’dha Rackard; her mother, Janina Rackard-Vickers, an educator at the Curley K-8 School in Jamaica Plain; Dr. Sheneal Parker, who leads the Henderson Lower Campus (K and 1); and BPS Special Education Parents Advisory Council board member Lisa Jeanne Graf. 

Jay’dha Rackard said the test causes her and other students tremendous stress. “It’s a constant conversation,” she said, especially since, at an arts school, they also need to focus on their art concentration.

Her mother said that for many students, a low mark on MCAS destroys their belief in their own futures. “I say to my students, ‘What does your future look like? Where do you want to see yourself?’ And a lot of them say, ‘I didn’t pass the MCAS. So what does my future look like? I don’t know.’”

The panel moderator was Margaret McKenna, a fellow at the Harvard University Kennedy School Institute of Politics, a former university president, and former Chair of the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. McKenna is also a former member of the Boston School Committee.

McKenna said the test is especially unfair to English language learners, students who have recently arrived from non-English speaking countries. “You just have to imagine if you went to China, and somebody put you in a classroom and expected you to take a consequential test in Chinese,” she said. “It wouldn’t be so easy.”

The participants included District 7 City Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson, whose district includes parts of Ward 4. The forum was co-sponsored with the statewide education advocacy organization, Citizens for Public Schools.

The answer to the ticket-price question: A price of $12.50 would maximize sales.

Alan Jehlen is an education writer, editor of the Boston Parents Schoolyard News blog, and member of the Citizens for Public Schools executive board.

This article appears in the April, 2024 issue of The Fenway News.

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