Massachusetts’ chief economic asset in the global economy is its unparalleled brain trust — the preparation and production of a highly educated citizenry and workforce. As a national leader in education, the commonwealth has seen its elementary and secondary students rise to the occasion time and again with increased rates of proficiency on state and national exams.
But beneath the surface of this strong student performance, a more nuanced picture emerges. Thirty-six percent of Massachusetts’ public high school graduates who enroll at one of the state’s public colleges or universities — including two-thirds of all community college students — place into one or more noncredit-bearing, remedial courses. Achievement gaps between students of color and white students are higher than the national average, as are the gaps between the college enrollment rates of students of color and white students. In a state where 72 percent of the jobs will require college degrees or training by 2020, the fact that so many students are deemed unprepared for college should set off alarms.
Educators need new assessment tools that guide them in instituting earlier and more effective interventions to support struggling students. Over the past decade, we have learned a lot about learning progressions and expectations for what students need to be prepared for college and careers. More recently, teams of K-12 educators and college faculty have worked together to create the state’s first joint definition of what it means to be truly ready for life after high school. With this foundation laid, it’s time to improve our testing program to reflect this new, shared standard for college and career readiness. MCAS, the state’s highly regarded assessment program, has served the commonwealth well but remains largely unchanged since its inception in 1998. MCAS also was never intended to assess college and career readiness, only student proficiency at the K-12 level.