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In Defense of Massachusetts Public School Children

Posted: 2002-09-28

Here's the cover letter for the package that CARE (Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education) sent out to all School Committees in Massachusetts.

http://www.caremass.org

September 18, 2002

Dear School Committee Member,

As we enter the school year in which the MCAS graduation requirement will take effect, 12,000 high school seniors still face possible denial of a diploma next June. We, the parents and teachers in MassCARE, know that you are as concerned about this situation as we are, and we urge you to come to the defense of public school children!

We are asking you to pass a resolution this fall asserting that you will continue to award graduation diplomas to seniors who have passed all local requirements, regardless of their MCAS scores. The Hampshire Regional, Cambridge, and Falmouth School Committees have all passed such resolutions and interest in this initiative is growing across the state. (See enclosed resolutions.) Note that these diplomas will signify graduation and will not be part of the state?s proposed two-tiered system in which students who do not pass the MCAS will receive a "certificate of completion" that will not mean graduation from high school and will label some students with a second-class status.

Education reform had the laudable goal of redressing funding inequities and identifying students who need extra help to achieve academically. Tragically, however, it is precisely those students who have struggled to succeed in school who may pay the highest price for failing the MCAS, an exam which many educators and experts have studied and found to be excessively difficult, arbitrary, and discriminatory.

High percentages of low-income, minority, urban, special needs, vocational, and bilingual children still have not passed the test, despite their best efforts. Statistics also show that the percentage of students being lost from our schools between 9th grade and 10th grades ? either dropping out, being held back, or leaving our public schools ? has grown from 6% to 13% a year since the MCAS began. And some school systems are seeing increasing numbers of middle school dropouts, an extremely troubling trend.

We are relieved for those students who have managed to clear the MCAS hurdle in time to graduate this year, but the fact remains that no single test should determine a student?s future, especially not one as flawed and controversial as the MCAS.

In view of these concerns, we also request that you sign on to another important resolution, originating from the Brookline School Committee, asking that the Mass. Association of School Committees affirm the right of school boards to retain diploma-granting authority. This resolution will be considered at by the MASC at its annual convention of delegates on October 30. So far, 22 school boards have voted to sponsor this resolution! (See enclosed Brookline resolution and list of co-sponsors.)

These measures represent a groundswell of independent activity by school committees. They are a natural extension of the responsible stand the MASC has already taken two years in a row, calling for a suspension of the graduation requirement until major questions about the test are resolved. The diploma-granting resolutions are essential to protect the rights of our children. They also send a clear and strong message to the Department of Education, the Legislature, and the Governor that those elected officials closest to the classrooms and the students oppose the high-stakes use of MCAS to determine who will graduate.

If enough school committees stand up to the state, it will be very hard for the DOE to react punitively against any one of our communities. Despite some ambiguous threats from Commissioner Driscoll, in fact nothing has happened to any of these school boards or districts so far. CARE?s Legal Policy Committee has researched this issue and determined that these school committee resolutions comply with the 1993 Education Reform Act and that it is the Board of Education that has misinterpreted the law and overstepped its authority. (See enclosed CARE Legal Memo.)

Some school committee members may reasonably fear that these resolutions will be interpreted as noncompliance by the DOE and thereby invite punitive action. However, it is just as likely that school boards will face legal action by parents of students who will be injured by the MCAS graduation requirement. Some school committee members have already noted that if they are forced into legal proceedings, they would choose to be on the side of vulnerable students and their families in their communities, rather than the side of the state agency imposing this test.

Please feel free to contact us to discuss this important issue (see phone numbers and emails on letterhead). We can put you in touch with other parents and teachers who feel as we do, and with other school committees in the state who are already active on this front. Thank you in advance for your support.

Sincerely,

Ben Gilbarg, teacher
Jean McGuire, New Bedford CARE, Executive Director, METCO*, Chair, statewide MassCARE
Angela Grattaroti, parent, Chair, Leominster Special Ed PAC*
Meg Robbins,teacher, Northampton CARE
Ruth Kaplan, parent,Brookline CARE
Larry Ward, parent, Cambridge CARE
*organizations for identification purposes only
contact: CARE coordinators Larry Ward or Jackie King at 617-864-4810
Enclosures:
3 diploma-granting resolutions from Hampshire, Cambridge, Falmouth
1 Brookline resolution for MASC, plus list of co-sponsors
CARE?s Legal Policy Memo
Summary/newsclip of lawsuit

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