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Teachers union: Crucial time to call for less testing, more learning

Re “Teachers union garbs its latest attack on MCAS in social-justice rhetoric. Don’t fall for it” (Editorial, May 2): It’s time to listen to Black and brown students, families, and educators who are challenging us to understand the racist roots of standardized testing. The high-stakes MCAS tests backed by The Boston Globe have served to rank and punish under-resourced schools rather than to build their capacity to educate and support our students. An intense focus on MCAS drains the joy out of learning and narrows the curriculum to one-size-fits-all. Low-income students of color pay the highest price when they and their schools are slapped with racist, dehumanizing labels, such as “failing” or “chronically underperforming.”

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The Massachusetts Teachers Association has long fought to replace high-stakes tests with classroom-based assessments that provide meaningful, real-time information to educators, students, and parents. The call for less testing and more learning is particularly crucial after a year of pandemic education, which is why we are informing families of their prerogative to opt their children out of taking the MCAS tests.

Instead of standardizing testing, it’s time to standardize resources in low-income communities of color and in their schools. We must fully fund the MTA-backed Student Opportunity Act so that schools have enough funding to meet the social, emotional, and academic needs of all students.

Merrie Najimy

President

Massachusetts Teachers Association

Quincy

The writer taught elementary school in Concord for more than 20 years.

Data don’t support reverence for standardized test

The Globe’s reverence for the MCAS-based state accountability system for schools and local districts does not fit the data.

MCAS started after the 1993 Education Reform Act, which mostly involved a massive increase in state funding. Massachusetts scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress, often called “The Nation’s Report Card,” were already at or near the top because Massachusetts is a wealthy, highly educated state.

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NAEP scores rose moderately after 1993. Then the funding stopped growing. Instead, a 2010 law ratcheted up the penalties on schools for low test scores. Since then, Massachusetts scores on most NAEP measures have fallen. Anyone can see that for themselves on the NAEP site.

NAEP data also show that differences in scores among racial, ethnic, and income groups have stayed almost the same. They have gotten bigger for English learners and students with disabilities.

As for the graduation test, the National Research Council found that “high school exit exam programs . . . decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing student achievement.”

Most states that tried graduation tests have eliminated them. Will Massachusetts be the last to face the facts about high-stakes testing?

The Globe editorial board has kept the faith, but the evidence shows MCAS accountability is a failure.

Senator Pat Jehlen

Democrat of Somerville

MCAS bar should be set even higher

Kudos to the Globe for its support of MCAS. The Massachusetts Teachers Association has always been afraid of standardized testing because it could lead to comparison of year-to-year results and identify teachers who did not advance the knowledge of their students. It seems the MTA cares about the adults, not the kids.

One concern I have, as a former teacher and MTA member, is why is the terminal MCAS a 10th-grade test? Is that all we expect from students — do they get the last two years off? In Britain, universities give provisional acceptances pending 12th-grade final exams. If it takes too long to grade the assessment, why not an 11th-grade final MCAS?

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Steve Watson

Lynnfield

Teachers embracing 21st-century education models

Sunday’s editorial states that we cannot fairly and successfully educate students without a uniform standard, such as the MCAS, and that such testing has shown Massachusetts to be “nation-leading.”

I assert that, contrary to what you suggest, most teachers in Massachusetts embrace “change, accountability, and competition.” Most are finding professional development to address the basics of 21st-century education: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.

Howard Gardner, cognitive psychologist, says that “students learn in ways that are identifiably distinctive” and that all “would be better served if . . . learning could be assessed through a variety of means.”

The MTA is reaching out to local school districts to create assessment tools to meet the needs of their students. After this most difficult year for student learning, what better time to create something multifaceted?

Have the writers of the Globe editorial been in the classroom recently? School districts base curriculums on teaching to the test rather than providing a broad spectrum for the high standards mandated by the ideals of 21st-century education. I applaud the courageous stance taken by Merrie Najimy and the MTA, and I support the legislative measures filed by state Senator Joanne Comerford and Representative James Hawkins to eliminate the MCAS.

Charlyn Bethell

Watertown

The writer is a retired music specialist from the Concord Public Schools.

In targeting MCAS, union is doing a disservice to members, kids, and districts

As a retired Massachusetts public elementary school principal who served for 30 years in that position, it was with great interest that I read the May 2 MCAS editorial. To begin, teachers unions play a necessary and pivotal role in maintaining appropriate balance in the management-labor dynamic. But those in union leadership positions do a disservice to their members, the children with whom they work, and the districts for whom they work when they attempt to belittle the value of the MCAS.

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In plain English, administering the MCAS is a colossal pain. But the benefits far outweigh that pain. If those of us who are, and have been, public educators want to be considered legitimate, we mustn’t be afraid of being objectively accountable. In the absence of standardized assessments, any claims of advanced achievement by our students ring hollow and invite doubt.

If the MTA really wants to convince the public that it cares about its kids, it will work to improve the test itself and the methods of reporting results. But it cannot continue to dismiss and belittle the importance of standardized testing.

John J. Pilibosian

Whitinsville

Teachers union demonized again

It is unfortunate that the editorial page of the Globe chooses to continue in its relentless campaign to promote the discredited MCAS test. The claim that the MTA position is just an opportunistic maneuver to use the pandemic “to outfit its long-time anti-MCAS quest in the garb of racial justice” is an unsuccessful attempt to demonize the teachers union’s position.

MCAS has been consistently rejected by many professional educators as a flawed test that has perpetuated inequities in the school system and drained resources from schools in communities of color. The MTA has offered a well-thought-out proposal to replace the faulty MCAS regime in the form of legislation to establish a procedure to develop successful alternatives to determine student competence. Meanwhile, the state Executive Office of Education stubbornly maintains a no-change-at-all-costs policy.

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The Globe bias against unions colors its editorial attack on the MTA. It claims that unions have a “natural tendency . . . to shield their members from change.” This is a profoundly ahistorical proposition. The record shows that the natural tendency of organized labor has been to accomplish positive changes in our society, where all workers must be treated with dignity. The drive to replace the MCAS represents just such a change, and it is one that is needed to improve the education of all the children of Massachusetts.

Rafael Moure-Eraso

Medford

The writer is a professor emeritus of public health at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and is a certified industrial hygienist.

Face it — these tests are a poor measure

It’s far too convenient to blame teachers and teachers unions for the failure to meet the equity goals of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation.

We’re decades into the current test-driven approach to pursuing the goals of that law. Have the equity gaps been closed? Of course not. In recent years, results from the National Assessment of Education Performance have consistently trended in the wrong direction.

Moreover, research since the passage of No Child Left Behind has shown that standardized tests have almost no sensitivity to the effects of differences in instruction on students’ learning.

Instead, year after year and across subject areas, these tests sort children in ways that do more to preserve inequities than to address them. What they really correlate with is what researchers have called an “uncharacterized latent trait” that has been marketed to the public as a measure of so-called college and career readiness. Current tests don’t accurately measure what students achieve in academic subjects.

Defenders of current tests are out of date in claiming that there are no alternatives. Performance assessment has been implemented at scale in New Hampshire. Pattern-based assessment has been implemented at scale across Texas.

The last people on earth anyone should blame for misapplied assessment are teachers.

Walter Stroup

North Dartmouth

The writer is an associate professor and chair, department of STEM education and teacher development, at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.