Original URL: http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/news/local_regional/mcasexemptions05232003.htm

MCAS exemptions granted for vocational, special needs and bilingual students
Friday, May 23, 2003
By Michael Kunzelman / News Staff Writer

BOSTON -- Students enrolled in vocational schools and bilingual and special-needs programs would be eligible for diplomas even if theey haven't passed the MCAS exam, under budget amendments filed this week by a MetroWest state senator.House lawmakers already have voted to allow school districts to award diplomas to special-needs students who haven't passed MCAS but have met all other graduation requirements.Now, as the Senate prepares to debate the budget, state Sen. Susan Fargo, D-Lincoln, is seeking to expand that exemption to include students who are "limited English proficient" or enrolled in vocational and technical high schools.Fargo, an outspoken critic of the MCAS graduation requirement, said school officials should have more discretion to decide which students deserve diplomas."There are some kids who simply will never be able to pass MCAS," Fargo said yesterday. "We need to have high standards for students, but we also need to be fair."More than 92 percent of the Class of 2003 has earned a MCAS competency determination and is eligible to graduate this spring, but the passing rates are lower for special-needs, bilingual and vocational students.Roughly 28 percent of high-school seniors with disabilities and 14 percent of vocational school 12th graders have not passed both the math and English sections of the test, according to the state Department of Education.Also, as of March, 33 percent of bilingual students in the Class of 2003 hadn't passed MCAS.Department of Education spokeswoman Heidi Perlman said Fargo's amendments, if adopted by the Legislature, threaten to "dismantle everything that education reform stands for.""This (MCAS) isn't about holding only certain students to a standard. It's about making sure that all students are held to the same high standard," she said.If the exemptions are approved, Perlman maintained that some parents would try to circumvent the MCAS graduation requirement by enrolling their children in vocational schools or special-needs programs."Our position is pretty simple," she added. "We're hopeful that amendments like these will not prevail in the Senate."Many vocational schools boast MCAS passing rates that rival, if not surpass, those of traditional high schools. At Assabet Valley Regional Vocational School in Marlborough, for example, only one of 200 seniors who have met all other graduation requirements hasn't passed MCAS."It has been a struggle for some of our students, but our kids have passed," said Assabet Valley Principal Stephen Pronovost. "That's the reality of it."Passing MCAS is daunting for many bilingual students, said Susan McGilvray-Rivet, director of bilingual education for the Framingham public schools."To expect them to come up to high-school grade level in two years is extremely unrealistic," she said.However, few students are still enrolled in bilingual programs by the time they reach the 12th grade, according to McGilvray-Rivet. And Fargo's amendment only offers an exemption to students who are enrolled in bilingual programs.Earlier this month, by a vote of 177 to 37, the House approved a budget amendment that allowed school district to award diplomas to special-needs students who haven't passed MCAS. Rep. Alice Peisch, D-Wellesley, sponsored the amendment.Sen. Cynthia Creem, D-Newton, has filed an amendment mirroring Peisch's proposal, but she hasn't co-sponsored Fargo's proposed exemptions for bilingual and vocational students. Peisch said she intentionally stopped short of including vocational and bilingual students in her amendment. "I was concerned that it wouldn't have as much support if the language was too broad," she explained. On Wednesday, Senate leaders unveiled a $22.56 billion budget plan that cuts state spending by $1.5 billion and generates $800 million in revenue by closing tax loopholes, tapping into reserves, hiking fees and other moves. Today is the deadline for senators to file amendments, but the process already is in full swing. Senators from MetroWest filed amendments that would:
Expand the pool of offenders who would be required to submit samples for the state's DNA database. Under the current DNA database law, the state only collects DNA samples from violent offenders and sex offenders. Sen. Cheryl Jacques, D-Needham, sponsored an amendment that would require all convicted felons and youthful offenders to submit a DNA sample to the state.

Freeze toll rates on the Massachusetts Turnpike by allowing Pike officials to tap into surplus revenues from the western part of the highway. The Pike currently can only use toll revenue collected east of Rte. 128 to pay for debt service on the Big Dig's bonds. Sen. David Magnani, D-Framingham, sponsored an amendment that pay for a toll freeze by allowing the Pike to transfer revenues from the western stretch of the highway.

Restore $14.5 million in funding for the special-education circuit breaker, which the Senate's budget plan funds at a lower level than the House.Under an amendment filed by Sen. Pamela Resor, D-Acton, funding for MCAS tutoring would be cut by the same amount.