Education officials could decide today whether they will drop requirements for students to pass a history MCAS exam this school year, potentially saving the state $2.5 million.

Education officials could decide today whether they will drop requirements for students to pass a history MCAS exam this school year, potentially saving the state $2.5 million.


In a letter to state Board of Education members last week, K-12 education Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester recommended the cut and said it would help preserve existing MCAS tests for English language arts, math, plus science and technology.


By eliminating the exam this year, and the costs of preparing, administering and scoring the history test, the state would save about $2.5 million a year, said Elementary and Secondary Education Department spokesman J.C. Considine.


"We're in no way backing away from history (as a MCAS test)...this is a decision based on the budget," said Considine.


Considine said the state spends roughly $36.5 million a year on the MCAS exams.


The history and social sciences exam has been offered as a test for the past few years in schools, but passing it wasn't a requirement to earn a high school diploma.


The state Board of Education approved offering the history MCAS as a graduation requirement, starting with the Class of 2012, a little over two years ago.


If the board drops the exam, students in high school, along with fifth- and seventh-graders, would not take the exam this spring or in spring 2010.


Under Chester's proposal, the board would also waive the requirement for taking that particular exam for the classes of 2012 and 2013. The history MCAS is typically taken by high school sophomores and juniors, Considine said.


The Board of Education meets today at 8:30 a.m. at the headquarters of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in Malden.


The move won't change much at area schools, said local educators, as they require students to pass history classes as a graduation requirement. They expect a history MCAS exam will reappear eventually.


Dropping the MCAS exam won't eliminate local schools' requirements for passing history classes prior to high school graduation, they said.


"Am I disappointed they're dropping the U.S. history MCAS? Not at all," said Dennis Wilkinson, test coordinator at Franklin High School. "We test the heck out of (students) in English language arts, math and biology."


He said he understood why the state would consider dropping the test, given the cost and the financial situation the state finds itself in.


At Framingham High School, teacher Gregory Lagan said the school still requires students to pass history courses before they earn diplomas. But a history MCAS exam would place the subject at the same level as English, math or science, plus the school could gather more detailed information about student performance in history, he said.


"You've got to roll with the punches...I'm not surprised," said Lagan, who leads the school's history and social sciences department.


Jim Lynch, the superintendent-director for Keefe Tech in Framingham, said the school will focus on the existing MCAS exams and work to ensure students who need extra help get it.


"Now our sophomores will have one less test to worry about," said Lynch.


Ashland Assistant Superintendent Ann Dargon said a lack of a state history test won't affect the district, and that Ashland has worked to match its curriculum to state standards.


"We will be prepared if and when the state decides (to offer) a history MCAS," said Dargon.


Natick High School's principal, John Hughes, said many schools have adapted to new state curriculum standards and the expectation there will be an MCAS exam for history. He said coordinating the testing for MCAS in a school uses much of the available space in a building, as teachers look for secure places to conduct exams. One less MCAS test to plan for could ease that effort.


"It's one less hurdle to jump," said Hughes.


John Hilliard can be reached at 508-626-4449 or John.Hilliard @cnc.com.


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