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Czarina's Farewell

In her third and final State of Education Address, acting Gov. Jane M. Swift of Massachusetts used her bully pulpit to continue preaching the gospel of rigorous standards and high-stakes exams.

Speaking at West Roxbury High School in Boston on Sept. 5, Ms. Swift praised teachers and students around the state who have helped boost performance on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Accountability System. All students beginning with the class of 2003 must pass the MCAS in mathematics and English in order to graduate.

Most recent MCAS results showed that on the 2002 exams, a record 86 percent of 10th graders passed the English test and 75 percent passed the math test on their first attempts.

"We've invested nearly $27 billion in our schools, and we've partnered with teachers to create advanced curriculum frameworks and high standards, and today we're seeing the results of that hard work and commitment," Ms. Swift said.

As lieutenant governor Ms. Swift led state efforts to raise students' MCAS performance. Newspapers in the state began referring to Ms. Swift as the "education czarina."

After poor showings in opinion polls, Ms. Swift opted last spring not run for the job she assumed when Gov. Paul Cellucci resigned to become U.S. ambassador to Canada last April.

Despite improved MCAS scores, high numbers of minority students and those from low-income families have not passed the exams, and state teachers' unions object to tying the exams to graduation.

Meanwhile, two local school board have voted to give students diplomas if they've met local requirements but haven't passed the MCAS. Some education observers in the state predict a legal showdown over the issue.

Ms. Swift also announced several new MCAS initiatives. Starting the next school year, students who have not passed the exams will be given additional retest opportunities—eventually getting seven chances to pass the exams. Students who meet local graduation requirements this year, but fail to pass the MCAS, will be able to attend free tutoring programs through the summer at their schools or workplaces, and take another retest in the fall.

Ms. Swift closed her remarks on a thoughtful note: "Let history show that Massachusetts worked together for her children and that every child had the opportunity to achieve excellence."

—John Gehring

Vol. 22, Issue 3, Page 17

Published in Print: September 18, 2002, as State Journal

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