College Access Blocked by MA High School Exit Test

University Testing

According to a new report released by FairTest and the Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education (CARE), thousands of college-bound Massachusetts public high school students – many African American or Latino – may be deprived of the opportunity for higher education solely because they have not passed the MCAS state test.


Beginning with the graduating class of 2003, students must pass the Mathematics and Language Arts portions of the MCAS in order to receive a high school diploma. As of September 2002, 12,000 seniors, nearly one in five in the state’s public schools, had not passed both tests. Students of color are over-represented in this pool, with half of Latino seniors and 44% of African Americans in the “failing/needs improvement” category compared with 13% of White and 17% of Asian students. Yet statewide for the class of 2000, 69% of African American and 62% of Latino students were accepted to college. This means that roughly 12-15% of African American and Latino students who would have traditionally been accepted to college may not be eligible to attend solely because of their MCAS scores.


Although some private colleges and universities do not require a high school diploma or GED for admission eligibility, Massachusetts’ state colleges, public universities, and some community colleges do. Since many students who still need to pass MCAS are from low-income groups that rely more on public colleges and universities, their options for affordable higher education will be severely limited. Implementing a plan to grant “certificates” but not diplomas, under consideration by the state Department of Education, will not significantly help these young people. The proposal states that those who do not pass MCAS but meet other academic requirements could receive a “certificate of completion.” Although the Mass. Department of Education has asked the federal government to count the “certificate” towards federal financial aid eligibility, the plan will not ensure admission eligibility to any public postsecondary institution in Massachusetts, including the community colleges.


In some high schools, huge percentages of students will see the doors to higher education slammed shut. For example, at the Jeremiah Burke High School in Boston, every student in the past two graduating classes was accepted at a 2- or 4-year college, yet 40% of the current senior class still has not passed MCAS. At Fitchburg High School, a blue-collar community in Western Massachusetts, about a fifth of those seniors who would have been accepted to college based on historical trends could have their educational plans snuffed out by the testing requirement.


Parents, educators, and other activists are organizing to repeal the graduation test requirement and to stop the “certificate of completion” from being implemented. At the same time, over 50 school committees throughout the state have adopted resolutions supporting full diplomas for students who have met all other graduation requirements but not passed MCAS (see story, page 1). Many colleges in New England have indicated they will accept the local diplomas for admission. The U.S. Department of Education has stated such students will be eligible for federal financial aid. In September, a lawsuit challenging the graduation requirement was filed (see story, page 6).


• The full report can be found at