Obama’s push to limit testing fuels Mass. debate

President Obama’s call for schools to reduce time spent taking standardized tests fueled the debate in Massachusetts over the role of assessments, and injected a new element into a looming vote on whether the state should adopt a new test, keep the old one, or develop a hybrid.

State officials on Monday had a range of reactions to the president’s announcement Saturday urging Congress to limit testing to 2 percent of school time.

Governor Charlie Baker told reporters at the State House that testing time is “certainly an issue that’s worth having a discussion about,” but said he was steadfast in believing that passing a test should remain a graduation requirement.


“The last thing I am ever going to support,” he said, “is getting away from the idea that there should be some baseline expectation about what somebody who gets a high school diploma learns here in the Commonwealth.”

Local parents, educators, and advocates told the Globe on Saturday that they supported the Obama administration’s proposal.

A state-commissioned study on testing this year found that Massachusetts school districts required an average of 6.7 tests per year, but it did not examine the number of hours spent on testing.

Secretary of Education James A. Peyser said Monday it is important to separate meaningful assessment from testing that does not produce results.

“Undoubtedly in some places they are testing too much, because they’re not using the data in a way that actually is improving teaching and learning,” Peyser said. “In other places, they may be doing quite a bite of testing, but using the data effectively.”

Mitchell D. Chester, the state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, also said what is most important is how tests are used.

“I hope that the dialogue the federal government is creating will emphasize that the best way to prepare students for success is not narrowly defined test prep but strong teaching and learning aligned to state frameworks,” Chester said a statement.


Peyser and Baker both signaled support of a proposal last week by Chester, who said that rather than keep the established MCAS test, or embrace the proposed PARCC exam, the state could incorporate elements of the PARCC into an “MCAS 2.0.”

Baker said Monday the PARCC, which was developed by a consortium of states led by Massachusetts, would require testing at more grade levels than the MCAS.

“One of the reasons I’m a big believer in controlling our own destiny is not only because we then get to set our own test, in terms of what we think it should look like . . . but it also gives us more flexibility with respect to when we would actually test,” the governor said.

Boston public schools already has reduced the number of district-required tests for lower-performing schools from six exams two years ago to just three this year, according to the School Department. In Boston’s top-performing schools, educators decide how many tests to administer, other than those mandated by the state and an early literacy exam that the district requires for kindergartners.

State Senator Patricia D. Jehlen, a Somerville Democrat and vice-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education, said that not only do students spend too much time taking tests, but that the tests in use are unproven and too little scrutinized. Jehlen has filed legislation calling for a moratorium on the use of standardized test data to rank schools and districts.


Joshua Miller of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.