MTA says MCAS plan is step in the 'right direction,' but still seeks cancellation

MTA says MCAS plan is step in the 'right direction,' but still seeks cancellation

The following statement was issued this afternoon by the MTA:

After MTA members flooded the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education with petitions, emails and phone calls calling for the state to “cancel MCAS” this year, DESE met them partway with a new testing plan outlined in a Jan. 5 memo to school leaders that cuts the amount of standardized testing this spring and reduces or eliminates the stakes attached to test results.

“The commissioner heard from classroom educators, parents and local school committee members and has taken a step in the right direction with this plan,” said MTA President Merrie Najimy. “That said, we will continue to organize for a federal waiver to cancel testing altogether this year so that we can stay focused on our top priorities of tending to our students’ wellness and furthering our creative efforts to make pandemic education successful.”

Najimy also noted that there are many unanswered questions about the logistics of administering even partial tests during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The biggest changes the DESE plan calls for are:
  1. Allowing this year’s seniors to fulfill their graduation requirement for English language arts and mathematics through coursework rather than by having to pass the MCAS tests in those subjects. This is what was in effect in the spring of 2020, as well, since that school year was also disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Najimy said that ending the MCAS graduation requirement is within the state’s power and should be enacted not only for this year’s senior class but in future years. 

  2. Shortening the tests for Grades 3 to 8 by implementing sampling, a system under which students take different portions of the tests rather than having all students take each test in full. Sampling is a way to get data on what schools and districts need without putting counterproductive pressure on individual students, whose education has been severely disrupted this year. The plan also says that the sampled results can be combined with other “data points” – presumably mainly classroom-based assessments and grades – to provide “meaningful diagnostic data at the individual student level.” Najimy said that classroom-based assessments have always been far more meaningful in determining what students know and are able to do than standardized tests.

  3. Agreeing to once again suspend naming any new schools or districts as “underperforming” or “chronically underperforming.”

The plan also extends the ACCESS testing window and provides flexibility in the administration of the high school biology test. One concern is that ACCESS testing is designed to be administered in person in a school building. MCAS tests also have always been given in school.

"If a school is operating remotely for safety reasons, then students should not be brought into the building just to be tested."

MTA President Merrie Najimy

Najimy said that no health or safety measures should be compromised in order to administer either the MCAS or ACCESS tests.

“If a school is operating remotely for safety reasons,” she said, “then students should not be brought into the building just to be tested.”

Najimy concluded, “The pandemic has thrown our world into disarray. If the upheaval leads us to push pause on this destructive high-stakes testing system and consider new ways of lifting up and measuring school quality, then that will be one positive outcome.”