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Legislators to appeal to Patrick about MCAS

Date: 2/15/2012

Feb. 15, 2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — Members of the city's legislative delegation meeting with City Councilor Kateri Walsh last week, expressed a fear that a home rule petition to shift the date of the March and April Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test (MCAS) wouldn't make it through the State House in time to make a difference.

Instead State Sen. James Welch and State Reps. Sean Curran and Michael Finn said they would seek a meeting with Gov. Deval Patrick in order to move the date. Aides to State Reps. Benjamin Swan and Brian Ashe, also voiced support for the change in dates.

The meeting on Feb. 10 came after the receipt of a letter to Mayor Domenic Sarno from Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester in response to the mayor's request to move the March and April tests to April and May.

The reason for the change of the dates is to acknowledge the issues caused by the June 1, 2011 tornado and the Oct. 29, 2011 snowstorm. The snowstorm caused an issue with teaching days this year and the tornado still has an effect on some students, according to Arlindo Alves, the professional relationship associate for the Springfield Education Association (SEA).

Alves said that moving the test dates would be "best for the children."

Walsh, who credited SEA President Timothy Collins for spearheading the effort, called the change in dates "an issue of fairness."

Curran explained a home rule petition to shift the dates could take up to 10 weeks to move through the House before it made it to the Senate. If passed by both sides of the Legislature, Patrick would then have to approve it.

"I doubt it will pass in time for the children of Springfield," Curran said.

A meeting with the governor, however, could convince him to speak with Chester to seek a solution.

"He [Patrick] does have the authority to change it," Curran said.

In his letter, Chester warned of repercussions from shifting the date.

"First, students in grade 10 will lose a crucial opportunity to earn their Competency Determination (CD) in ELA [English Language Arts], a prerequisite for obtaining a high school diploma … Second, grade 10 students who do not take the spring 2012 ELA test will be ineligible to qualify for the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship, which provides a tuition waiver at Massachusetts colleges and universities, even if they subsequently pass an ELA retest … Third, Springfield's non-participation will affect students in all grades by depriving educators of data used to improve curriculum and instruction … Fourth, federal and state laws require annual assessment of students in tested grades. Failure to test in ELA this spring may jeopardize federal and/or state funds," he wrote.

No representative of the School Department attended the meeting and, when asked about School Superintendent Dr. Alan Ingram's stance on the issue, Azell Cavaan, the chief communications officer for the department, said, "Superintendent of Schools Dr. Alan Ingram supported the effort to request an MCAS extension and sent a letter of such request to Commissioner Mitchell Chester. The commissioner recently responded to the district's request, saying that an extension would not be possible. The superintendent respects that decision."

Nancy de Prosse, a representative of the Massachusetts Teachers Association who works with the SEA, noted the Springfield system has 10 Level Four schools — the lowest assessment of educational achievement — and that the MCAS tests on the set dates puts "incredible pressure" on these schools.

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