Student Achievement

Mass. Governor Calls for MCAS Tutoring Grants

By John Gehring — September 12, 2001 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Massachusetts’ acting governor wants to give high school seniors who are in danger of failing the state’s accountability exams cash grants to help pay for tutoring if they lack access to remedial programs at their schools.

Jane M. Swift announced the proposal Aug. 30 during the state’s second “state of education” address before some 400 superintendents, principals, teachers, and public officials at a high school in Quincy, Mass.

Starting with the class of 2003, students must pass the English and mathematics sections of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, which is given each year to 4th, 8th, and 10th graders, in order to graduate. Students have five chances to pass the test.

The MCAS has been the focus of continuing and often fierce debate. The largest Massachusetts teachers’ union ran a $600,000 advertising campaign last fall attacking the test as “flawed and unfair,” and some teachers and students have boycotted the exam.

While praising the state’s education improvement efforts—equalizing education funding among districts and raising expectations for low-income students—Gov. Swift said that more than half the state’s 8th graders are reading below grade level, and that achievement gaps between different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups persist.

In an effort to help students pass the MCAS, she said she would propose legislation to provide individual grants of up to $1,000 for the purchase of “educational support services.” Starting with this year’s junior class, the “Extra Help Guarantee” could be used by any first-semester senior who has not passed the MCAS and does not have access to tutoring services at school.

“I want to speak directly to the students and families of the class of 2003,” said Ms. Swift, who became the acting governor in April after a fellow Republican, Gov. Paul Cellucci, was named ambassador to Canada. “You may be anxious about the test results coming in October, but I want you to know ... I am committed to your success. ... And I’m putting in place a fair system that provides every possible option and opportunity for you to achieve your high school diploma.”

Since 1999, the state education department has provided $80 million to schools for programs and tutoring that help students who are in danger of failing the MCAS. But not all districts offer MCAS remedial support. It is the students in those districts that Ms. Swift hopes to reach with her new proposal, which comes as the Massachusetts legislature is running two months late in producing a final state budget.

In her speech, Ms. Swift directed the education department to release $10 million that has been held up by the stalled budget so that after-school programs and other tutoring services for the MCAS could begin this school year.

Mixed Reactions

Forty bills calling for changes in the MCAS, including several that would eliminate the exam-based graduation requirement, are pending in the legislature.

Ms. Swift’s proposal drew immediate criticism from teachers’ union leaders.

“I was not overly enthused,” said Stephen E. Gorrie, the president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, a 90,000-member affiliate of the National Education Association. Mr. Gorrie said that he had hoped to hear the acting governor discuss class-size reduction, improvements in after-school programs, and an expansion of early-childhood education.

“I see this proposal as a gimmick and not a serious plan,” he said. “It appears success is being determined by MCAS scores alone.”

Last year, while she was lieutenant governor, Ms. Swift announced a drive to recruit 20,000 volunteer tutors to help struggling students with MCAS preparation. While that plan stalled, the education department still has made providing tutoring services for students a high priority and has been successful in attracting tutors, according to Alan Safrin, the department’s senior associate commissioner for student achievement.

The department recently began a major public-information campaign to attract tutors by advertising on billboards and posting signs on buses and in subways. Even before the push, Mr. Safrin said, about 100 potential tutors volunteered their services each month.

William Guenther, the president of Mass Insight Education, a Boston-based nonprofit organization that works to improve student achievement in the public schools, called Ms. Swift’s tutoring proposal a “good addition” to the mix of programs currently available to help students with the MCAS.

Massachusetts has made considerable progress in “shifting the paradigm away from denying diplomas to kids to making sure students are graduating with skills that will prepare them for higher education or a job,” Mr. Guenther said.

Ellen Guiney, the executive director of the Boston Plan for Excellence, a nonprofit public education fund that works mainly in urban schools, said she supports giving more students access to help for the MCAS. But she said true improvement efforts must be more substantive than getting students up to a very basic level of skills in order to graduate.

“If we’re calling this education reform,” she said, “this is not education reform.”

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Law & Courts Webinar
Future of the First Amendment:Exploring Trends in High School Students’ Views of Free Speech
Learn how educators are navigating student free speech issues and addressing controversial topics like gender and race in the classroom.
Content provided by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Start Strong With Solid SEL Implementation: Success Strategies for the New School Year
Join Satchel Pulse to learn why implementing a solid SEL program at the beginning of the year will deliver maximum impact to your students.
Content provided by Satchel Pulse
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Achievement Opinion The Pandemic’s Toll on Academic Growth Wasn’t Uniform. Recovery Efforts Can’t Be Either
Returning to "normal" will not be enough next school year, write three researchers.
Dan Goldhaber, Andrew Mceachin & Emily Morton
5 min read
Conceptual illustration: Some students were more impacted by pandemic
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock/Getty
Student Achievement With So Many Kids Struggling in School, Experts Call for Revamping 'Early Warning Systems'
A new collaborative says the indicators developed to flag students at risk of not graduating need an update for post-pandemic schools.
4 min read
Woman sitting at a desk in front of a monitor showing a database of different types of charts.
DigitalVision/Vectors/Getty
Student Achievement What the Research Says Pace of Grade Inflation Picked Up During the Pandemic, Study Says
But the ACT found that the higher grades were not reflected in college-admission test scores.
4 min read
A+ in chalk on a traditional blackboard.
E+/Getty
Student Achievement From Our Research Center The Rise of Tutoring and Where It Falls Short, in Charts
It can be a powerful tool to support academic recovery, but it's not reaching all who need it.
2 min read
teacher tutor student librarian 1137620335
SDI Productions/E+