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LETTERS

The perennial assessment of the MCAS is underway

Ryan Huddle / adobestock

If its goal was to close gaps, the test has failed

The MCAS has been around for a long time, but the Globe should not confuse longevity with success (“In defense of MCAS,” Editorial, Sept. 27). Decades of evidence show that the high-stakes MCAS has not helped schools address longstanding opportunity and achievement gaps.

If the goal was to use these tests to close gaps in opportunity, it has failed. Test score gaps between various groups of students remain as large as, or larger than, they were before we started using these exams. High school graduation gaps between white and Black students and between white and Latinx students in Massachusetts are larger than the average gaps for those groups nationwide.

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What exactly was the use of this year’s MCAS? Who is doing something to help children learn that they wouldn’t have done without the test results? Everyone knew the scores would go down. They did. Now what?

Did any teacher say to themselves, “Oh! I’ve been working with Johnny and Suzy online all year, but I had no idea that they weren’t learning as well as they would have in my classroom. These scores show me how I should change my lesson plans.” No.

MCAS was a waste of precious time and a source of extra stress in the midst of disaster. It’s time to acknowledge these facts and reimagine the way we assess learning.

Lisa Guisbond

Executive director

Citizens for Public Schools

Boston


Assessment remains key to measuring progress

With the slew of bills conveniently presented last week just prior to the imminent reporting of expected poor MCAS results statewide, it appears that some of our legislators and others have gone through the looking glass when it comes to describing forces of racism behind assessments of performance (“MCAS opponents push for change,” Metro, Sept. 21; “MCAS scores plunge in pandemic,” Page A1, Sept. 22; “In defense of MCAS,” Editorial).

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Education reform in Massachusetts in the 1990s was based on a grand bargain of extensive state funding (currently more than $5 billion annually from Chapter 70) in return for a strong message of improved standards plus measurement against those standards. Funding has been increased most recently with the Student Opportunity Act and then boosted enormously by federal emergency funds. Equity was and remains the target of that bargain, even in the face of continued achievement gaps.

Schools are an integral player in the ecosystem of societal factors necessary to close those gaps. All of us, no matter the school district or the social class, have fallen short — in imagination, innovation, and common purpose — in closing them.

The money is there. The goal of equity is there. The message is clear that we haven’t reached all of our goals, but there has been progress. Measuring that progress is essential. Massachusetts statewide assessments remain models for others and are recognized as such. The MCAS is a capable messenger. Let’s not shoot the messenger.

Joseph Esposito

Bedford

The writer is a member of the state’s Student Opportunity Act Data Advisory Commission and a board member of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education.


Test prep takes its toll — on students, teaching, and learning

The Globe editorial in support of the MCAS fails to see the whole picture of how the assessment negatively affects the life of a student in a public school in our state.

MCAS does not fairly assess student achievement for all students. It puts students who are from immigrant families, people of color, and students with learning disabilities at a disadvantage.

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Preparation for the test takes a toll on time that could be spent on learning, as math and English language arts instruction is given priority over subjects such as music, art, library, STEM, technology, and gym.

Students whose scores are considered in peril of failure are made to feel that they are “different” as they are taken from their mainstream classrooms to use the resources of special instruction, including tutors and aides. Student self-esteem is undermined by testing. Plus, paying for these services takes away from other public school priorities.

Yes, school districts and teachers need to show accountability. But there are other ways to do this. Why is it believed that MCAS is the only way? Grade-level standards and benchmarks exist statewide. Let’s focus on those and show that we can do better than MCAS.

Charlyn Bethell

Watertown

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


Look instead at the driving forces behind achievement gaps

The Globe has long signaled its support of high-stakes standardized testing by expending an abundance of editorial coverage and support to the MCAS regime (“In defense of MCAS”). However, there is an undisputed correlation between the socioeconomic status of test takers and MCAS results. If the Globe seeks to make a constructive contribution to the discussion, it should interrogate the socioeconomic and racial factors that are the driving forces of the achievement gap.

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Jay Yesselman

Cambridge


We need vital data, but we need to rethink MCAS to collect it

As the leader of an organization committed to using data and evidence to improve student learning, I read the article “MCAS scores plunge in pandemic” with a sense of resignation and a desire for change.

For 18 months, we have wrung our hands over the impact of school closures and the inadequacies of remote learning. It’s neither surprising nor illuminating that test scores declined. While it is absolutely critical to know where students stand academically, how is this information helpful right now? The school year has started, and educators have already spent months preparing.

The reporting of MCAS scores at a time when they will have little impact on teaching and learning speaks to the limitations of our current student assessment system. We need to give educators and families real-time data on student progress at regular intervals throughout the year, not just once in the fall, months after the test was taken. We must develop adaptive, computer-based assessments that lessen the test-taking burden, provide timely information to guide classroom practice, and enable students to express the full diversity of what they know and can do.

These ideas are already being explored in Nebraska and Florida, states we don’t typically consider ourselves to be lagging behind in education.

It’s time to rethink the MCAS.

Chad d’Entremont

Executive director

Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy

Boston


Test is widely misunderstood and still essential

I was shocked, but shouldn’t have been, to learn that the Massachusetts Teachers Association has urged state lawmakers to do away with the requirement that students pass the MCAS in order to graduate.

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The widely misunderstood state test that simply assesses where students are to show areas we need to work on is most certainly a challenge, especially for urban students. The spring results released Sept. 21 show that learning gaps remain and grew larger in some cases, and there were troubling showings in a range of school districts. This is indeed disappointing information in this COVID era that has devastated schools. But we still need an outside assessment to determine needs.

Kay Scheidler

Providence

The writer is a visiting assistant professor at Framingham State University, a former assistant superintendent in the Canton and Hopkinton public school districts, and the author of “Standards Matter.”