A conflict exists between the goals of the Massachusetts special education program and the requirements of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). The special education program in Massachusetts ensures that school systems identify and address the unique learning needs of each special education student. It acknowledges that some students learn at a pace different from the general population. In contrast, Massachusetts also requires that all students obtain a minimum score on the MCAS exam in order to receive a high school diploma. This minimum score is the same for both regular and special education students. Thus, a disparity exists between the Commonwealth’s policy requiring local school systems to acknowledge and treat the unique learning needs of special education students throughout their entire schooling, and its policy requiring special education students to pass MCAS at the same level as their regular education counterparts in order to graduate high school.
For many special education students, the Commonwealth’s shift from acknowledging to ignoring their unique educational challenges and limitations places an insurmountable hurdle between them and the diploma for which they may otherwise qualify. The result is that many special education students complete their schooling without a diploma to serve as evidence of their efforts, or even worse, simply give up hope of graduating and drop out of school. Without a high school diploma, these students will likely be stigmatized, unable to attend college, and unable to realize their aspirations. . . .