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Too much MCAS reliance, researchers say

Pupils miss out on art, activities

More than 130 Massachusetts professors and researchers urged state education officials Tuesday to stop relying on standardized test scores to judge school quality, teacher effectiveness, and eligibility for high school graduation.

In a letter, they said that standardized testing programs, such as the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, have fostered an “environment of intimidation, fear, anxiety, and stress for both teachers and their students.”

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“As educators and researchers from across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we strongly oppose our state’s continued overreliance on high-stakes standardized testing to assess student achievement, evaluate teacher effectiveness, and determine school quality,” they wrote in the letter to state education officials.

Leading the MCAS opposition is Monty Neill, executive director of FairTest, a Boston-based research organization critical of standardized testing; Lisa Guisbond of FairTest and Citizens for Public Schools, a grass-roots education advocacy organization in Boston; Nancy Carlsson-Paige, professor emerita, Lesley University; and Chris Buttimer, a doctoral candidate at Harvard Graduate School of Education.

In an interview, Neill said standardized testing is taking over the schools and squeezing out time for subjects not tested by MCAS, such as the arts, and other activities, including ­recess.

“Schools have become test prep programs,” Neill said.

The professors and researchers are raising their objections as Massachusetts is working with several other states to create a new testing program that could replace the MCAS or be integrated into it.

‘We strongly oppose our state’s continued overreliance on high-stakes standardized testing.’

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The letter includes some recommendations, such as ensuring that the state’s new assessment system will go beyond a paper-and-pencil test in judging student performance.

The recommendations also call for halting the use of MCAS results in determining high school graduation and the hiring, ­firing, or rewarding of teachers.

Mitchell Chester, the state commissioner of elementary and secondary education who is leading the effort to create a new testing system, declined to comment on the letter because he had not seen it.

But he defended the more than decade-old MCAS, which tests students every year in grades 3 through 8 and grade 10.

He said the new testing system, which would be taken largely on computers, would ­include some classroom-like exper­iences in assessing student knowledge, such as writing essays that require the citing of multiple research.

“The bottom line for me: It’s really important to measure performance and achievement, and build that into our assessment of how well schools and teachers are doing,” Chester said.

The professors and researchers said they received inspiration to write their letter from standardized-testing rebellions that have occurred across the country.

In Texas, nearly 900 school boards have adopted a resolution expressing their displeasure about an overemphasis on standardized testing.

In New York State, more than 1,500 principals have signed a letter criticizing a new educator evaluation system for relying too heavily on student test scores.

And in Seattle, some high school teachers garnered ­national attention last month when they refused to give a district-­mandated standardized test.

“There is too much testing and too much reliance on test scores in decision making,” Neill said.

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.
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