A Lexington mother is helping to lead the charge to end the requirement that students pass the statewide standardized test known as the MCAS in order to graduate from high school.
Shelley Scruggs has dreaded the day her 15-year-old son, Shawn, will have to take the test. He’s “very good with his hands,” Scruggs said, but doesn’t perform well on tests. Shawn is interested in becoming a plumber, which requires a high school diploma or equivalent. For students “going into a trade, a high school diploma is the most important thing,” Scruggs said. Now a sophomore at Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School, Shawn will be required to take and pass the MCAS this year in order to graduate.
But a proposed statewide ballot initiative could potentially end that requirement. Scruggs filed a draft ballot initiative with the Massachusetts attorney general’s office in August, co-signed by 11 other petitioners, some Lexington residents. The initiative cleared a major hurdle earlier this week, when Attorney General Andrea Campbell certified the proposal (along with 34 others, on issues ranging from rent control to legalizing psychedelic mushrooms). Supporters, including the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, now need to collect 75,000 signatures by Nov. 22 in order to move the process forward and bring the issue directly to voters.
Massachusetts is one of only eight states that requires students to pass a standardized test in order to graduate. Students must meet requirements on the 10th grade math and English exams, as well as one science and technology/engineering test. The requirement was suspended from 2020 to 2022 due to the pandemic, and during that time, statewide graduation rates increased by 2.1 percent. The increase was most pronounced among Black and Latino students, English-language learners, and students with disabilities.
“I’ve been thinking about this issue for years,” said Scruggs. “I think it’s important not to penalize students because they’re not good at taking the test.”
Scruggs said she has been met with support from many community members who back her push for changing the requirement. Among those supporting the initiative are the Lexington Education Association, the representative group for all Lexington educators.
“We support this new ballot initiative led by Ms. Scruggs because it is the right thing to do,” said the association’s co-presidents Amy Morin and Robin Strizhak in a joint statement. “Such tests do not accurately measure students’ learning and growth.”
“It’s such a kick in the teeth if you can’t receive your diploma,” Scruggs said. “I think people are going to breathe easier” if the requirement is ended.