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Pathways to Graduation

Supporting All Students to Mastery A Retrospective Look at the Class of 2003

Published Date : April 15, 2004

The aspirations of the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act are ambitious, but clear — to provide every student with an opportunity to learn and achieve mastery at a high standard of academic proficiency. Since the legislation’s passage, considerable time, effort, and resources have been dedicated to achieving this lofty goal, and substantial progress has been made toward providing all Massachusetts students with a high quality education. The state has dedicated significant resources and effort to fulfill its commitment through a variety of programs and solutions, but despite this success and clear commitment, more must be done before the ultimate goal is fully met. With the institution of high stakes testing, the Commonwealth assumed an additional, critical responsibility — an obligation to provide ongoing academic support to students still needing to meet the competency standard and graduate. While the Commonwealth and Department of Education (DOE) might easily have ignored this responsibility, they should be commended for their efforts to support these students. However, more must be done. As they continue in their efforts to meet this responsibility and address the diverse learning needs of Massachusetts students, the Commonwealth and its educational leaders must continue to institute a system that effectively identifies, recruits, and supports students requiring additional time and academic assistance to earn a competency determination.

To raise public awareness and generate discussion on the topic of student pathways to graduation, the Rennie Center sponsored a public event in March 2003. Speakers representing the state, higher education, school districts, community partners, and students referenced initiatives in progress and the need for continued, deepened efforts to ensure the development of a multi-tiered, diverse safety-net of pathway options. A year later, the Rennie Center remains committed to ensuring that the Commonwealth has developed and implemented effective student pathways for the Class of 2003 and subsequent senior classes. To inform further discourse, the Rennie Center has conducted a preliminary review of data available through the DOE on the Commonwealth’s pathway options for members of the Class of 2003. While other Massachusetts researchers are conducting multi-year assessments on district-level remediation efforts and their impact, this report focuses, specifically, on how well the Commonwealth has served members of the Class of 2003 who did not pass MCAS by addressing the following questions:

  • Who were the members of the Class of 2003 requiring pathways programming support?
  • Which programs were implemented to serve these students’ needs, and who was served?
  • What more must be done to strengthen a pathways system for students?

While an incomplete picture remains, we believe that it is critical to communicate available data in a timely fashion and with an independent voice to ensure that necessary changes and adaptations can be made prior to graduation June 2004, when another group of seniors will require pathways support. Given the limited scope of this brief, we draw attention to the many data gaps that exist and multitude of questions still needing to be addressed. We hope that this report will advance the practice and policy discussion and encourage the Commonwealth’s leadership and educators to continue the systemic development of academic pathway options for all of Massachusetts’ students.

June 2004 marks the one-year inception of the Commonwealth’s Alternate Pathways to Success initiative. As policymakers and education leaders consider the effectiveness of Massachusetts’ pathways policy and next steps in its continued development, they must evaluate the extent to which its original goal was accomplished – creating a safety net to support all students to mastery. The Commonwealth has made a good start at providing pathway supports but more must be done to strengthen and build a comprehensive pathways system. In this brief, we begin to identify ways in which this system requires improvement, including:

  • More data on eligible students and an improved student tracking system
  • Better alignment of existing needs and available services
  • Better coordination of resources, programs and providers
  • Greater clarification of service provider roles and responsibilities
  • More program evaluation and focus on providing equitable access to pathway options
  • Better communication, especially to students and the counselors who advise them

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