Recognizing the harm caused to students, schools and communities by high-stakes standardized testing, the Massachusetts Teachers Association is voicing its strong endorsement of legislation intended to eliminate the MCAS graduation requirement and replace the tests with a broader and democratically determined framework to measure school quality, along with more authentic forms of demonstrating student achievement.
“The implementation of the MCAS and other standardized tests has had the exact opposite effect of what was supposed to occur when the system was introduced more than 20 years ago,”MTA President Merrie Najimy
A public hearing on S.293/H.612, An Act Expanding Opportunities to Demonstrate Academic Achievement, is scheduled for Monday before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education.
Senator Jo Comerford and Representative James Hawkins are the legislation’s lead sponsors. The bill removes standardized MCAS testing as the sole way of gauging student achievement and calls for the development of multiple pathways for students to demonstrate that they have met mastery standards.
The legislation further calls for the creation of a grant program to support communities in their work to develop district-based evaluation models. The measure protects communities from having their schools labeled “underperforming” any time that spending on public education falls below so-called foundation budget levels – which the state determines to be the bare minimum amount that it costs to educate a student in a city or town.
MTA President Merrie Najimy said the influence of the MCAS has allowed white supremacy to flourish in public schools, effectively alienating students who have diverse backgrounds and differentiated learning styles.
“The implementation of the MCAS and other standardized tests has had the exact opposite effect of what was supposed to occur when the system was introduced more than 20 years ago,” Najimy said. “Public schools in predominantly Black and brown communities have been taken over by state bureaucrats who have been using standardized testing as a tool not to improve opportunities for students but instead as one to pry public education from the hands of the families and educators who know best what their students need.”
Senator Comerford said that the high-stakes nature of the MCAS is unjust.
“While Massachusetts must administer a standardized student assessment per federal law, that assessment does not need to be a prerequisite for graduation,” Comerford said. “Right now, in the Commonwealth, a single test can derail a young person’s future. A minority of states hold to this same rigid, punitive practice, with more and more states transitioning every year to a more nuanced set of graduation metrics. For the sake of generations of students, Massachusetts should join them.”
Representative Hawkins, a retired Attleboro educator, has long advocated for alternatives to the MCAS, arguing that the tests do not produce meaningful results and ultimately rob too much time from actual learning. He further criticizes the standardized tests for limiting what educators can work on with their students and for leading some students who struggle with the tests to believe they are “failures.”
“When we come up with alternatives to the MCAS, we are no longer teaching to the test but instead creating projects that the students tend to enjoy more and get more out of,” Hawkins said. “My experience as an educator tells me that we have many other ways of getting students to show what they know. In Attleboro, there is a lot of enthusiasm when educators, administrators and School Committee members collaborate on ways to assess students’ work. We end up with something that is much better than anything developed by someone sitting in a cubicle at Pearson."
MTA Vice President Max Page said that the MCAS does a better job of measuring students’ socioeconomic conditions than their academic abilities.
“Educators’ unions pushed to reduce the use of MCAS during the pandemic,” Page said. “In doing so, we have seen that without so much time lost to testing and test prep, educators could better engage their students as they contend with the trauma and impact of the pandemic. Our educators and students are resilient and creative; shackling them with standardized tests undermines the various initiatives to develop a system of public education that best meets the needs of an ever more diverse student body and diverse society.”