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MCAS Conquered: Fifth Try is the Charm for the Falmouth Student Who Battled Down Syndrome and the State

Susan Notes: The news is good for Tracey. That's why it is posted here. I'm glad her parents still speak out about how wrong the ordeal was.

FALMOUTH - Tracey Newhart, a student with Down syndrome who was denied entrance to culinary college because she couldn't pass the MCAS, has finally achieved her goal.

After four attempts at the math portion of the test and three at the English, Tracey passed the state Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam, which she took last fall.

"She was just not going to let it beat her," said Tracey's mother, Pat Newhart. "That's the way she is about everything."

Tracey, 22, became a poster child for MCAS dissenters last year after a series of events ended her dream of attending Johnson & Wales University.

The Providence, R.I., culinary college accepted her for enrollment but then denied her entry because she had not passed the 10th-grade MCAS test to earn a state-sanctioned diploma.

The Falmouth resident's ordeal began in middle school, when a Falmouth guidance counselor told her she was exempt from taking the MCAS exam, the state test that has been a graduation requirement since 2003.

Once in high school, however, she learned she would have to take the test. But then Falmouth school administrators promised to issue diplomas to students like Tracey who met local requirements but who had not passed the MCAS.

The committee revoked that promise in 2003 out of fear that the school district would lose state education money and accreditation.

After intense lobbying by her family, the Falmouth School Committee agreed to give Tracey a diploma that was not recognized by the state.

Tracey accepted it in an emotional, one-person graduation ceremony in January 2004.

At the ceremony, principal Paul Cali informed Tracey she had been accepted by Johnson & Wales.

"I would like to tell you to always keep trying," Tracey said through tears during graduation. "It's important to never give up and you will reach your dreams."

As it turned out, she'd have to take her own advice.

No deal
The day after graduation, Johnson & Wales told her there had been a misunderstanding: She couldn't attend their program without passing the state-required test.

"It is another example of how this fixation on the MCAS test is destroying kids' lives," Robert Schaeffer, public education director at Fairtest, an anti-standardized test organization, said at the time.

But Tracey and her family did not let it destroy them. Among the Cape Codders rallying to help her was Nicole Fox, a Mashpee resident who agreed to tutor Tracey to get her ready for an MCAS retest. In fact, Nicole's father, Robert Fox, paid his daughter to tutor Tracey, Pat Newhart said.

In November, Tracey took both the math and English exams, passing with a comfortable 10-point margin, her mother said.

To ease Tracey's nerves the tutor had said the November tests were just practice exams, Pat Newhart said.

The trick worked. Tracey got the good news recently over the telephone from school officials in Mashpee, where she took the test.

When she got the results "we cried happy," Tracey's mother said. "Then I became angry about all my kid has been through."

School and state officials "dropped the ball on my kid," she said.

A change of plans
In the end, Tracey decided not to go Johnson & Wales because the program for the degree she sought meets only one day a week for 12 hours. Her mother said she couldn't handle that schedule.

She's applying to several other schools.

In the meantime, she has started her own business, selling baked goods out of her family home.

With about 25 regular customers and more wanted, she has a new Toyota Scion emblazoned with "Tracey's Kitchen" to make deliveries.

Tracey eventually wants to own or rent a commercial kitchen so she can expand her business. One day, she hopes to own a restaurant run by people with special needs.

— K. C. Myers
Cape Cod Times


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