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Should Massachusetts cancel this year’s MCAS tests?


Marianela Rivera

Former vice chair, Lawrence School Committee; a coordinator for the Greater Lawrence Education Justice Alliance; parent; physical therapist in the public schools

Marianela Rivera
Marianela RiveraSusan Merriam

We all have seen the rising death toll from COVID-19, and many of us have had to endure the loss of a loved one from the virus — or know someone who has. We are experiencing collective trauma as a society and many of us have had difficulty coping with the stressors of the pandemic. This prolonged stress is toxic to the body and can negatively impact the developing brains of our children. It is imperative that we utilize an evidence-based approach to address what impact this emotional strain and anxiety is having on them. For those reasons, we should cancel this year’s MCAS and instead prioritize the psychological and social-emotional wellbeing of our children, a step that would also avoid the need to take more precious time from learning, and save taxpayers money.

A report by the Economic Policy Institute on the effects of toxic stress on children found that “children exposed to more frightening and threatening events are more likely to suffer from academic problems, behavioral problems, and health problems.” It also said “low income children are more likely to be exposed” to this stress. Without question, this profound stress and the rise of depression and anxiety helps explain why so many children have struggled during this period of remote learning. Going forward, we will need additional school staff to effectively address these needs in our children in order to maximize learning gains in the classroom. Our focus should not be on administering the MCAS, but on hiring adjustment counselors, therapists, social workers, and behavior analysts in our schools to effectively support the social-emotional and psychological needs of our children that we are all so very concerned about this school year.


In 2016, Massachusetts signed a five-year contract with Measured Progress to administer the “Next-Generation” MCAS, costing taxpayers $150.8 million. But the state to date has failed to fully fund our educational system as required by the 2019 Student Opportunity Act. If we genuinely want to address the recent learning loss from COVID-19 and the ongoing achievement gap, we need to fully fund our schools, providing young people the resources and support they need to thrive in the classroom.



Brian Gilmore

Milton Town Meeting member; board member, Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education

Brian Gilmore
Brian GilmoreBachrach Photography

How have school disruptions due to the pandemic affected student learning? Are our children falling behind in reading, an essential skill to learn other subjects? Have students mastered math standards that are needed as a foundation to advance to the next level? Is the impact widespread or have some students been disproportionately impacted? How can federal relief funding be best deployed to quickly and effectively address specific areas of need?

These are the essential questions that MCAS uniquely can answer. MCAS is the only assessment administered in every Massachusetts public school, offering objectivity and comparability no other assessment can provide. And, assessment is absolutely essential to recovery. Without data to understand learning loss, we cannot develop strategies to get students back on track. MCAS has perhaps never been more important.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, recognizing the unique circumstances in which schools continue to operate, made important changes to this year’s MCAS. The third-to-eighth-grade tests will be shortened to focus on the essentials students need to master to advance to the next grade, significantly reducing the time needed to administer them. In addition, MCAS will not be used to judge school or district performance. These fair and reasonable adjustments address the issues raised about doing MCAS this year.


A group of civil rights, social justice, disability rights, immigration policy, business, and education organizations around the country have voiced support for moving forward with statewide assessments this year. In a letter to the US Department of Education, they said “Parents and families deserve to know whether their children are meeting college- and career-ready expectations and whether the education system is responding to and improving their opportunities to succeed.” Their letter goes on to say that local assessments are not a replacement for statewide standardized tests, as some argue. I agree with this distinguished group of organizations.

Parents have had a harrowing year. They are rightly concerned about their children’s wellbeing. MCAS can help answer questions they have about what supports their child might need to recover from so much lost learning time and make them more effective advocates for what support their child might need.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact laidler@globe.com.

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