In an attempt to reach a compromise on whether to administer the MCAS this year, Education Commissioner Jeff Riley may have pleased no one.
Teachers’ unions and school officials had been pressuring state education officials to scrap the MCAS standardized tests this year. Riley announced Thursday that 11th graders will not have to take the MCAS and will not need to pass it to graduate, if the board of education approves his plan, although students in other grades will.
Massachusetts Teachers Association president Merrie Najimy says Riley’s actions fall short of what the unions wanted — a full cancellation of the tests. “Administering the MCAS tests this year would be nothing but a bureaucratic exercise in compliance that would take time and resources away from teaching and supporting students,” Najimy said.
On the other hand, business groups and school reform advocates have been urging the state to keep the tests to measure student learning loss and determine where to target aid. Keri Rodrigues, founder of Massachusetts Parents United, a foundation-backed parent group, warned that watering down graduation requirements means students’ diplomas “might as well have a ‘pandemic’ stamp on them.” She added: “The decision today is telling these high school juniors that we do not believe in them, that we’ve given up on them meeting the same standards as every other graduating class.”
Until now, Riley showed little interest in skipping this year’s tests, maintaining that the federal government would not let him waive them. But while the federal government requires testing in grades three through eight and once in high school, the state can fulfill that requirement by testing in 10th grade but not 11th. Under Riley’s proposal, the class of 2022 would need to demonstrate competency in a subject to graduate, but would not need to pass the MCAS.
Riley has also made additional changes – letting younger students who are learning remotely take the tests at home, delaying testing until later this spring, shortening the tests, and not using them to label schools underperforming.
Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday said it is “challenging” to figure out where kids are at, given the difficulties associated with schooling this year. Baker said he talked to Riley about logistics and alternative assessment strategies, and the commissioner is taking “a tiered approach” to MCAS.
School superintendents, school committees, and teachers’ unions had asked the state to not require MCAS this year. In a letter, 29 state lawmakers on Thursday asked Baker and Riley to postpone the tests to the fall, which is allowed under federal guidelines.
The lawmakers, led by Democratic Senators Pat Jehlen of Somerville, Jo Comerford of Northampton, and Cindy Friedman of Arlington, wrote that with many students just returning to school in person in April, with weeks left inthe school year, “we believe their limited time should be spent on learning, re-establishing relationships, and recovery from the trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic crisis.”
They note that even if the test is given, many students will opt out or be absent and some students will take them from home, making the results incomparable to prior years. Results will not be available until the fall, they say, and a quicker assessment would be more useful to measure learning loss.
Virus notes: The high vaccination rate among older people in Massachusetts is driving down the number of COVID-19 cases in that age group. According to the latest state data, there were 943 COVID-19 cases among people over 70 in the last two weeks, or 4 percent of total cases. That figure is important because elderly people are most likely to become hospitalized or die of COVID-19. Read more.
Paul Craney of the conservative-leaning Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance says the Office of Campaign and Political Finance should deal with the Ryan and Stephanie Fattman campaign finance case via a public resolution letter, not a referral to the attorney general’s office. Read more.
Climate change is already causing power grid issues, as storms that once were thought to come every 100 years are now coming more frequently, according to Kathleen Abernathy and Gordon van Welie of ISO New England. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Gov. Charlie Baker signs a bill freezing unemployment insurance rates, eliminating taxes on PPP loans, and providing emergency paid sick leave for those who need COVID-related time off. (MassLive)
Lawmakers are seeking a moratorium on new prison construction — even the replacement of the run-down women’s prison in Framingham. (WBUR)
Gloucester’s community development director asks for an external investigation into Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken for harassment and creating a hostile work environment — the second person to file a similar complaint against Theken. City employees are calling for an update to human resources policies to address the complaints. (Gloucester Daily Times)
Boston will get at least $100 million more in federal stimulus aid because the package included money for Suffolk County government, which doesn’t effectively exist anymore. (Boston Herald)
The nastiness of the nurses strike at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester spreads to another Tenet Health Care-owned facility in Framingham. (MetroWest Daily News)
The number of cities and towns at high risk for COVID spread jumped this week from 32 to 55. New infections have seen a troubling rise in the last few weeks. There were 1,045 cases reported in schools, as many students prepare to return full-time. (MassLive)
The Holyoke Soldiers’ Home trustees select Rick Holloway as the home’s new superintendent. Holloway is currently the administrator of a state veterans’ home in Boise, Idaho. (MassLive)
President Biden convened his first in-person Cabinet meeting, and assigned five department heads, including Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, the task of leading efforts to sell his $2 trillion infrastructure plan to the public. (New York Times)
The US added more than 900,000 new jobs in March as the recovery was boosted by more widespread vaccination and federal stimulus spending. (New York Times)
Businesses on Cape Cod are already fretting over what they fear will be a summer worker shortage as the region prepares for what looks like a blockbuster season. (Boston Herald)
A Russian immigrant who sought sanctuary in a church in Northampton emerged for the first time in three years after her asylum case was reopened by the Board of Immigration Appeals. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
Tom Keane says the solution to the exam school debate in Boston is to get rid of the selective-admission schools altogether. (Boston Globe)
New inspection stickers have not been issued for three days in Massachusetts after a malware attack on a vendor that prevented several states from conducting vehicle inspections. (MassLive)
ARTS AND CULTURE
Bevin O’Gara has been named interim artistic director of New Repertory Theatre in Watertown, filling the slot vacated by Michael Bobbitt, who left to run the Mass Cultural Council. (Boston Globe)
The data used to measure climate change-related progress in Massachusetts is years old, making it hard to determine if the state is successfully reducing emissions. (Eagle-Tribune)
A new report, part of an ongoing series, issued by Attorney General Maura Healey says consumers who switch to electricity suppliers other than the main utility in their region are paying more for power. (Boston Globe)
Home heating oil companies are up in arms over a move to eliminate rebates for buying new oil-fired heating systems, part of a state-driven move to wean consumers off fossil fuels. (Boston Globe)
Gov. Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey appoint members of the state’s new Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, which will set training standards for and certify or decertify police officers. (MassLive)
Prosecutors have charged alleged serial rapist Alvin Campbell Jr. with a ninth attack after retrieving cellphone video they say he recorded of the 2018 attack. (Boston Globe)