MCAS Ruins Teens Chance to Pursue Culinary Goals
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Here's the phone number of Day Culinary Admissions office: 401-598-2370
Tracey Newhart's future is once again in limbo because she didn't pass the MCAS
FALMOUTH- The plans of a teenager with Down syndrome to attend Johnson & Wales University appear to have come to a heartbreaking end.
Despite her family's fight to get the award-winning cook a special Falmouth High School diploma so that she could go on to culinary college, the university turned down Tracey Newhart's application after learning the diploma wasn't certified by the state of Massachusetts because she couldn't pass the MCAS exam.
"Her acceptance was contingent on a real high school diploma," said Miriam Weinstein, spokeswoman for the Providence, R.I., university. "We need an official high school diploma."
The news comes after a joyous graduation ceremony on Thursday held just for Tracey in the high school auditorium. Tracey gave a speech, the high school chorus sang, and the principal announced that she had been accepted to Johnson & Wales University.
The next night, hundreds of people were invited to a graduation party in her honor.
But the celebration was short-lived. When the university's administrators saw news coverage of Tracey's graduation, they learned she was not getting a state diploma, but one granted by the Falmouth School Committee in defiance of state law.
Yesterday, the head of admissions at Johnson & Wales told Falmouth Supt. Peter Clark that state certification was required.
"There seems to have been a miscommunication," Clark said. "And I don't know where it started."
Tracey's mother, Pat Newhart, said she had always been under the impression that her daughter would qualify for the university so long as she had a high school diploma.
But Newhart admitted, she never specifically explained to the university's admissions office that Tracey's diploma would not be certified by the state but only by the local school district.
"I didn't explain the difference," Newhart said yesterday. "Because she was getting a Falmouth High School diploma. I didn't want to get into the rest of it."
The Falmouth School Committee had voted in 2002 to grant local diplomas for those who met all local requirements, but couldn't pass the new Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam.
That gave Newhart hope that her daughter, who had not passed the MCAS, would have a chance to fulfill her dream of studying culinary arts.
That dream almost died in July 2003 when the school committee voted to rescind the offer to grant local diplomas. The committee worried that the state would punish them by removing the school's accreditation or funding if they defied state law.
This launched the Newharts into a new battle, which they won in December, when the school committee decided at last to issue a local diploma to Tracey. Their decision was based on the fact that the state changed the rules in the middle of the game. That is, until Tracey was a sophomore, the state said she was age-exempt. She was 17 when she entered high school. At the end of her sophomore year, however, the state mandated that all students, regardless of age, must pass the MCAS beginning in 2003. Tracey failed the exam twice as a junior.
Clark admitted that the school never had time to prepare Tracey for the MCAS.
"I cannot put Tracey through anymore," her mother said yesterday, adding that she is now considering a lawsuit, though she has no idea how she could afford it.
The courts, however, have not looked favorably on lawsuits challenging the validity of the MCAS graduation requirement, said Lisa Guisbond, a test reform analyst with Fairtest, a nonprofit group opposed to the MCAS exams.
"So far judges have decided it would do more harm to the state to shift gears with the graduation requirement than it has already done to students like Tracey," Guisbond said.
Tracey is among 28 percent of special needs seniors who had not passed the MCAS exams as of May 2003, according to the state Department of Education.
"This is another example of how this fixation on the MCAS test is destroying kids' lives," said Robert Schaeffer, public education director at Fairtest.
If Tracey's graduation date came before 2003 - before the MCAS graduation requirement- she would have received a certified diploma.
Clark said he may try one more time to talk with Johnson & Wales about "what kind of person Tracey is, how hard she's worked and how deserving she is."
"It's especially disheartening that they couldn't have made an exception," he added. "But when I pushed on that, (the admissions director) indicated it's a basic rule. She didn't feel open to that idea."
K. C. Myers
Cape Cod Times