Bilingual students now mandated to take MCAS
The Boston Herald
by Kevin Rothstein
Monday, February 17, 2003
All but the newest immigrant students who speak limited English must take the
MCAS test this spring, according to a new state Department of Education
directive ending the exemption.
While all students in this year's senior class must pass the MCAS exam to
graduate, the change means kids of all grades must take the test this spring no
matter what their English skill level.
The Ed Department changed the rules late last week to meet new requirements
calling for English testing of all students. The need for testing was imposed by
the state Question 2 ballot question and the federal No Child Left Behind Act,
said department spokeswoman Heidi Perlman.
``This is what the voters asked for,'' Perlman said. ``Both require that all
students be tested in English.''
There are more than 40,000 students with limited English skills in the state.
Those who had been enrolled in a U.S. school for three years or less did not
have to take the exam.
That exemption changed to cover only those students first enrolled in an
American school by Oct. 1 of the current school year. New federal law limits the
number of exempt students to just 5 percent of a school's population.
While most students have been taking the MCAS test, the new requirement raises
the likelihood that those non-English speakers taking the exam for the first
time will fail. Critics fear that will depress scores at schools that have
struggled to bring low MCAS test scores up.
``I think you're going to see a major academic catastrophe,'' said Michelle
Esposito-Flynn, an administrator for Revere's bilingual program. ``I think it's
going to drag the district down. Where you've seen an improvement over the last
three years, you'll probably see a decrease.''
Revere has about 420 kids in its bilingual program. Esposito-Flynn estimated
one-quarter of those students might not pass the MCAS test on the first try.
``I think they're forcing them to take a test that they're not ready to take,''
With state and federal aid riding on test score outcomes, Esposito-Flynn said it
remains to be seen whether the drop in test scores would affect the resources
sent to local schools.
Perlman said any increase in the failure rate would be helped by the state's
``aggressive retesting program'' as well as tutorial services and other helpful
``We're pretty comfortable through our retesting program these students should
be able to get over the bar if they don't make (it the first time),'' she said.
Other critics said the change would exacerbate a problem they already blame on
the MCAS: rising numbers of kids being held back a grade.
Roger Rice, head of the Somerville-based Multicultural Education Training and
Advocacy organization, predicted schools would hold back more English-language
learners for fear they would drag down test scores.
``The impact of this will be more kids will be held back,'' Rice said. ``Kids
will be held back in third grade because they need to pass the MCAS in fourth
The MCAS rule change is the first significant educational shift attributed to
the passing last year of Question 2, the ballot question that will force a
shake-up of bilingual education in the state. The rest of the requirements will
not go into effect until next year, though.
Beginning next year, foreign students will learn English through immersion
rather than over longer periods of time.