MTA President to BESE: See this as a 'teachable moment'
Teachers, students and parents are concerned about the impact of a Grade 10 MCAS question that required students to adopt the point of view of a racist character in the novel “The Underground Railroad.” Several testified at a Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting today to voice their concerns. The meeting was held at Newton North High School, the school attended by BESE student member Maya Mathews.
MTA President Merrie Najimy was the first to testify, calling on the board to lift the “gag order” that forbids students or educators from talking about test items and making the case that no student should be denied a diploma based on results from the English language arts test that included the offensive question.
Two students from Bay Path Regional Vocational Technical High School also attended the meeting.
One of them, Wilmiguel Rodriguez, testified that the question “infuriated” him and that he was unable to complete the test after answering it. He also made the broader case that he and other students experience a lot of stress over taking the test, and he called on the state to develop better ways to assess what students know.
- Educators' unions and civil rights groups demand that DESE withdraw racially offensive MCAS
- MTA President Merrie Najimy tells BESE to lift the gag rule on MCAS, hold 10th-graders harmless
- American Psychological Association study: Stereotype Threat Widens Achievement Gap
- Washington Legislature approves bill to remove graduation testing requirements
Lisa Guisbond, executive director of Citizens for Public Schools, cited the American Psychological Association noting that “researchers Steele, Aronson and Spencer found that even passing reminders that someone belongs to one group or another, such as a group stereotyped as inferior in academics, can wreak havoc with test performance. This is known as stereotype threat.”
Guisbond also noted that Massachusetts is now one of just 12 states that has a high-stakes test graduation requirement and that could soon drop to 11. Just one day before the BESE hearing, the Washington legislature voted to abolish its test-based graduation requirement as of the class of 2020. The bill now goes to the governor for his signature.
Mary Ann Stewart, the parent representative on the board, joined the meeting remotely and said she thought the board should consider holding students harmless for this year’s results. However, the rest of the board deferred to Commissioner Jeffrey Riley, who asked the board to take no action — at least until after the department and researchers from Stanford University study the results of the test to analyze what impact the question has had on student performance.
In her remarks, Najimy pressed the board to see this as a “teachable moment” about the hazards of relying on high-stakes tests.
“Do not squander this opportunity to rethink the purpose of education in Massachusetts and how to best assess whether our goals are being met,” she said. “Our students are more than a score.”