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In Massachusetts, “Needs Improvement” Means More Testing to Ensure College Readiness

“What we don’t want is students and schools to think they can slide by on ‘needs improvement.’”

Last month, Massachusetts education officials announced that 80 percent of current tenth graders had passed the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) on their first try. Included in that total were approximately 20 percent of tenth graders who scored “needs improvement”—one rung above failing— in either math or English. Technically, those students passed the test, but under a new rule that took effect this year, they will have to complete additional courses in the subject area and take another state test before they can graduate from high school.

The Massachusetts Board of Education passed the rule two years ago in hopes that it would better prepare students for college or work by helping them gain a basic mastery of English and math. “What we don’t want is students and schools to think they can slide by on ‘needs improvement,’” Mitchell Chester, Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, told the Boston Globe.

According to an article in the Boston Globe, the new rule was a “step toward” meeting the requirement in the No Child Left Behind Act that all students be proficient by 2014. “Initially, the board sought to require all students to score at least proficient in English and math this year—four years ahead of the federal deadline—but decided that would be too much of a leap for school districts, which have been struggling to boost achievement of all students, especially poor students or those with learning disabilities,” the article reads.

Chester said that the students who scored needs improvement would have to complete individualized proficiency plans that push them to work toward being proficient by the end of high school, but does not require them to be proficient in order to graduate. High schools will use the proficiency plans to outline students’ strengths and weaknesses on the MCAS and the courses they will have to complete by graduation. In addition, schools will test the students every year and measure their progress toward proficiency.

“New rule casts cloud on MCAS results” is available at

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