Teachers air anti-MCAS ad

By Scott S. Greenberger, Globe Staff, 11/9/2000

day after voters in a handful of legislative districts approved an anti-MCAS measure, the state's largest teachers union rolled out television ads designed to convince the Commonwealth that the controversial test should be scrapped as a graduation requirement.

''We strongly believe in high standards,'' said Stephen E. Gorrie, president of the 87,000-member Massachusetts Teachers Association. ''But you can't assess student achievement based on a single criterion.''

The ad, which shows frustrated students struggling to complete the exam, is the latest salvo in an intensifying battle over the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. The class of 2003 is the first that will have to pass the English and math portions of the test to get a high school diploma. Students are scheduled to take the exam in the spring.

Pro- and anti-MCAS activity is picking up as the test date approaches.

On Tuesday, voters in six legislative districts - one each in Cambridge, Somerville, and Holyoke; one district that encompasses West Roxbury and part of Brookline; and two in New Bedford - overwhelmingly approved a nonbinding resolution to suspend MCAS as a graduation requirement. The vote was 75 percent to 25 percent in both Cambridge and Somerville, 63 percent to 37 percent in both Holyoke and the New Bedford districts, and 61 percent to 39 percent in the West Roxbury/Brookline district.

Tuesday's vote was the second symbolic blow to MCAS in as many weeks: Last week, the Massachusetts Association of School Committees passed its own resolution calling for the suspension of MCAS as a graduation requirement.

The vote at the school committee convention was powered largely by delegates from suburban districts, who significantly outnumber urban members. But anti-MCAS activists pointed to Tuesday's vote as proof that opposition to MCAS is strong in cities, too.

''It obviously cannot prove what voters in a majority of the state would say, or even urban voters,'' said Monty Neill, who heads FairTest, a national anti-testing group based in Cambridge. But Neill said the vote ''is a clear sign that a diverse array of urban voters support'' suspending MCAS as a graduation requirement.

For their part, MCAS supporters noted that Tuesday's ballot resolution dealt with more than just MCAS: it also opposed vouchers and for-profit charter schools, and supported smaller class sizes and more money for public schools.

''It's got everything but the kitchen sink,'' said Diana Pisciotta, a spokeswoman for Mass Insight, a pro-MCAS business group. ''I think people who feel some concern about their children's education may have voted for this resolution to show that concern.''

A recently released Mass Insight poll shows strong support for using MCAS as a graduation requirement.

The ad unveiled yesterday by the Massachusetts Teachers Association is sure to pour fuel on the heated MCAS debate: A somber narrator laments the fact that education used to be about ''imagination, creativity, discovery and dreams,'' but now it's all about ''a flawed and unfair test.'' Students rub their eyes in frustration as the merciless clock ticks.

The teachers association paid $600,000 to run the 30-second spot statewide through Dec. 3.

Governor Paul Cellucci and State Board of Education Chairman James A. Peyser blasted the ad as ''irresponsible.''

''If they were investing this $600,000 on developing effective remedial programs for high school students or middle school students in math, they'd be making a much greater contribution to education,'' Peyser said.