Enough with the debating — let’s take a close look at teaching and learning
It’s a problem when an educational policy debate sounds the same as it has over the past two decades. The suggestions offered by the new Voices for Academic Equity coalition provide a starting point for a more sophisticated public discussion (“A pro-MCAS voice emerges,” Editorial, May 27).
High standards, expectations, and accountability are essential but clearly insufficient. If 20 years haven’t brought us to where we want to be, then we need to think about changing things rather than retreating to the comfort of opposing positions.
The problem is that we are not paying enough attention to curriculum and instruction, to teaching and learning. Do we understand the different ways various students learn? Are we sufficiently focused on skill development, engaging content, and applied learning? Are we helping teachers with what they need when it comes to classroom management and effective instructional strategies?
Here’s a proposal: Keep MCAS but use it to measure learning gain. Break it up and administer it in 45-minute sessions spread out over the school year. Use it as a way to help teachers improve their craft. Don’t eliminate competition, but take the threat of failure out of the equation. Then let’s really talk about curriculum and instruction for a change.
The writer is executive director of the Boston Private Industry Council, a former Boston Public Schools parent (1989-2011), and the spouse of a BPS classroom professional.
We need a common measure if we’re going to be accountable
If accountability is here to stay, it seems prudent to try to improve MCAS, but we should keep it as an assessment to measure progress. MCAS results tell us how well we are doing — as students, classrooms, grades, schools, districts, and a Commonwealth. MCAS indicates strengths and weaknesses, as long as teachers and leaders take the time to review the data and develop action plans and implement them to address needs in teaching and learning.
I often think that the Massachusetts Teachers Association and American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts do not support MCAS because it highlights weaknesses at the micro level of classrooms, schools, and districts. Until we are willing to identify what needs work, we cannot address areas to improve. As residents of the state — and, in the case of many of us, as parents with a stake in the outcome — let’s take a look at the Massachusetts standards and various curriculum frameworks and explore how MCAS can help us meet them.
Our state standards are deep and thoughtful. They ensure that our students are educated at a high level. They prepare students for life after high school, whether work, college or university, or other preparatory activities. Without this common statewide measure of progress, we are giving our schools and students an insufficient chance needed to succeed.
Linda L. Greyser
The writer, who holds a doctorate in education, was a member of the Massachusetts Commission on the Common Core of Learning, the group that developed the framework for the Massachusetts educational standards under the Weld administration.
High-stakes testing is not closing large gaps
Students, educators, parents, and advocates gathered last month to share eloquent testimony about the harms of the MCAS graduation requirement and state receivership. Had the Globe editorial board been there, its members could have learned about why it’s time for the Thrive Act’s common-sense reforms (“A pro-MCAS voice emerges”).
The Thrive Act would not eliminate MCAS testing or the capacity to monitor test score gaps. All the data would still be available.
Since the MCAS graduation rate went into effect, results confirm that what the Globe calls a “highly successful” reform has failed. Large gaps by race, income, and disability have largely remained the same, while the gap for English-language learners has increased dramatically.
Furthermore, with the MCAS graduation barrier paused for three years during the pandemic, graduation rates improved for groups most likely to be harmed. While white students’ graduation rate rose by half a percentage point, Black students’ rate rose by more than 6 points and Latinx students’ rate rose by almost 7 points. English learners’ rate rose by 8.5 points.
The Globe doesn’t want to address the real problems with high-stakes testing, or why Massachusetts is one of only eight states that still have antiquated graduation tests. It’s time for a change.
Citizens for Public Schools
State takeover of schools has been a failure
The Globe claims that supporters of the Thrive Act, legislation that would end the state takeover of local public schools and the use of the MCAS as a graduation requirement, are “anti-accountability.”
What about accountability for the state bureaucrats who have spent the past decade failing to help Black and brown students in districts under receivership? The Globe’s very own analysis of state takeovers in Lawrence, Holyoke, and Southbridge found that “the state has failed to meet almost all its stated goals for the districts.” Where’s the accountability for that lack of progress?
As a parent in Lawrence, I’ve seen how state takeover disrupts students’ education with a revolving door of administrators and educators. I’ve seen how students’ learning experiences are limited by a narrow focus on test prep. But because there’s no role for local democracy in the state takeover system, there’s no way for parents to make our voices heard on these issues.
The Thrive Act would restore local democracy in our schools, empower local communities with funding to support the programs that students need, and establish a modified graduation requirement based on actual coursework.
That’s how we deliver the true accountability parents want.
The writer is a parent of three Lawrence Public Schools students and a member of the Lawrence School Committee.
Pressure of the test is punishing for his high-needs students
As a veteran educator in Worcester, I must disagree with your editorial touting the benefits of high-stakes MCAS testing. Tying MCAS to a graduation requirement and using it as a trigger for state receivership are forms of punishment, and the pressure trickles down to all grade levels.
I am a paraeducator working with mostly high-needs students. In my experience, the MCAS has become a barrier to learning, forcing students into situations where they will not succeed. I know in advance which students will do well and which will not. I end up providing as much emotional and social support as academic support to students panicking about the impact that the MCAS will have on them.
The high-stakes nature and rigidity of the MCAS unfairly punishes students. Once I had a student who had been shot and blinded several months before MCAS testing yet was still expected to take the exam upon returning to school. It’s inhumane.
MCAS reinforces standardization in education, but it does not necessarily measure the quality of education. In its current form, it threatens the educational success of our most vulnerable students. The state must embark on alternative ways to monitor student growth if we truly care about all students.
The writer serves on the boards of the following: the Educational Association of Worcester (first vice president), the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and the National Education Association (member-at-large, education support professional).