MTA: Lower school ratings due to opt-outs expose absurd accountability system

MTA President Barbara Madeloni said on Wednesday, September 28, that students and parents of students who opted out of taking state standardized tests last spring were expressing legitimate opposition to the focus on testing in public education, and she added that their schools should not be sanctioned for their actions.

Madeloni was reacting to Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester’s announcement Monday that he had lowered ratings for 42 schools — including Boston Latin School — in response to low participation rates by students.

“Students, parents and educators alike have been calling for an end to the destructive high-stakes use of standardized testing in our schools,” said Madeloni. “Opting out of tests, which are distorting education and consuming increasing amounts of time and money, is a legal and effective way to protest this system.”

State law requires districts to administer standardized tests, but does not require students to take them. Last spring, more and more parents and students began to understand that the focus on standardized testing is narrowing the curriculum and disrupting learning time. As parents and students considered their options, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education advised school administrators to provide students with a secure place to read or do other work during testing if they chose to opt out.

Twenty-eight schools, including Boston Latin, dropped to Level 2 because they had participation rates below 95 percent and another 14 were dropped to Level 3 because their rates were below 90 percent. The MTA will be reaching out to locals where there was a high rate of opting out in opposition to testing in order to draw attention to the commissioner’s decision.

When schools are given lower ratings based on participation rates, not on other more important measures, "then many people wake up to the fact that these ratings don’t provide us with the information we really need about our schools."
— MTA President Barbara Madeloni

At one school, Swift River in New Salem, so few students took the test — only 16 percent in the whole school — that the DESE gave it no rating at all, simply noting there was “insufficient data.” In Danika Tyminski’s fifth-grade class, every single student opted out of testing. As reported in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Tyminski said students and educators traded in test preparation and 24 hours of test-taking time for other educational activities, such as rehearsing a play, studying salamanders and exploring pre-algebra concepts.

Madeloni said, “Parents and communities have a right to know if their local schools are well-funded, welcoming places where students and educators have opportunities for deep learning, the free exchange of ideas and a rich curriculum that inspires creativity, problem-solving and community. None of these characteristics can be measured by a standardized assessment. By making the test results count for so much, the state is implicitly diminishing the importance of other school characteristics.”

Madeloni said that one consequence of the state lowering ratings based on participation rates is that the public should become increasingly skeptical of ratings when assessing the relative merits of different schools.

“When places such as Boston Latin, Concord-Carlisle Regional High School, Amherst-Pelham Regional Middle School and the Charles E. Brown Middle School in Newton are all given lower ratings based on participation rates, not on other more important measures, then many people wake up to the fact that these ratings don’t provide us with the information we really need about our schools.” she said.

Related Resources

Opting Out of High-Stakes Tests