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[Susan notes: This letter offers a nice explication of the MCAS magic "90% pass rate" figure.]

Published in MetroWest Daily News

To the editor

The Department of Education (DOE) is now boasting about how 90 percent of the class of 2003 have passed the MCAS test. Several years ago, I heard political discussions to the effect that if more than 10 percent of the class of 2003 failed, this would be politically untenable. About two years ago, Jeff Nelhaus, the testing director at DOE, predicted a 90 percent passing rate for this class. The people at DOE are either in possession of remarkable psychic powers, or the test results have been manipulated through measures such as adjusting the scaling and allowing certain numbers of students (amazingly, about half) to successfully appeal. Guess which it is?

This is especially egregious since the Commissioner of Education has made statements to the effect that students did not pass because they were not really trying. This is an insult to many hard working students who are battling learning disabilities, English language problems, poverty, and underfunded school systems. In addition, some school systems are much more willing to appeal students who fail than others are. My understanding is that the Superintendent in Chelsea has not filed any appeals.

Virtually every testing expert group cautions that standardized test scores alone should not be used to make high stakes student decisions such as denying students a high school diploma. The Education Reform Act calls for multiple assessment measures, including portfolios of student work, to be used. Yet the DOE persists in this inappropriate, illegal, and unethical use of a standardized test.

This policy negates much of the positive impact that education reform efforts have had for students in the Commonwealth.

Barbara Rose

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