West

THE ARGUMENT

The Argument: Should the state put a three-year moratorium on high stakes testing?

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff File

YES

Sarah McKeon

Framingham public school teacher, co-president of the Framingham Teachers Association

As a kindergarten teacher, I am writing to share my concerns regarding high stakes testing and why I believe a moratorium is needed.

Sarah McKeon

Picture a classroom and the young humans inside it. Not the education reform buzzwords, not the media hysteria, and not the business types who think they know education. Spontaneity, creativity, and authenticity have disappeared and instead, we find ourselves preparing for tests, giving tests (for over 20 days a year), and furiously playing catch-up for the remainder of the year. Students miss services such as speech, occupational therapy, English as a Second Language, and advanced classes because those teachers are taken to proctor the PARCC test. This is completely inappropriate.

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Teachers help students develop strategies for learning. Yet at test time, we are forced to go silent, and our students put their strategies aside. There is no helping, no talking, no opportunity to provide even a word of encouragement, without fear of being accused of coaching the student and potentially losing his/her job. How can we be told to differentiate learning for our students, but then give them a standardized test? Each student is unique and cannot be standardized.

Questions remain regarding accommodations for students with special learning needs, and also second language learners. If these students are not getting the proper supports, how can they be expected to perform well on this test? With PARCC – the standardized test that Massachusetts is considering adopting in place of the MCAS - children are tested based on developmentally inappropriate curriculum that has not been fully implemented. Teachers have had to participate in rushed, disorganized professional development that has not properly trained them as test administrators.

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Instead of developing our own creative lessons, we are now often given scripts to follow. Rather than teach, too often we are data collecting and test prepping. We are missing vital opportunities to truly connect with our students, and they are losing the chance to truly participate in their own learning. Our profession has been hijacked and our creativity stunted. Our students are not numbers or data points. Please recognize that, and allow us to get back to what we should be doing: teaching.

NO

Liam Kerr

Needham resident, Massachusetts Director of Democrats for Education Reform

There is an important debate about exactly what assessments should be used to ensure we are preparing our children for the future. But we cannot entertain halting accountability measures for the $10 billion of public school spending in Massachusetts.

Liam Kerr

One major objection to testing is time. But the teacher group Teach Plus found that less than two percent of third and seventh grade classroom time is spent taking tests mandated by the federal or state government. If local school districts are spending too much time on other assessments, local school committees should step in - we should not abandon accountability as a state.

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Similar objections to cost should fade for the new PARCC test which, at $30, is a rounding error for a state that spends more than $14,000 per student.

Another objection is stress. My first job after college was serving with AmeriCorps in an adult literacy program. Many clients graduated high school without any form of accountability. It is difficult to discuss what “high-stakes” means after sitting with an adult who wants to serve in the military but cannot read - and even more difficult to think about that student being passed along without any accountability.

We must identify such gaps for students, schools, and sub-group populations.

For instance, black sixth graders in Newton are five times more likely than white students to be in the “Warning category” for English Language Arts. Latino students are seven times more likely.

We can debate how to best approach addressing those gaps. But we cannot turn a blind eye, which is why national civil rights organizations like the National Council of La Razza and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund oppose anti-accountability efforts.

Massachusetts should look to another national - and local - leader on questions of accountability. In a recent debate on this matter in DC, Senator Elizabeth Warren recalled a time when the government was “really good at shoveling tax dollars out the door, but not very good at improving student achievement.”

For Massachusetts, the past two decades have been a period of sustained improvements in student achievement. Now is no time to turn back.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com
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