The Argument: Should the state put a three-year moratorium on high stakes testing?
Gina Garro, Revere public school teacher, member of Massachusetts Teachers Association board of directors
I have been a public school special education teacher in Revere, where I grew up, for close to 20 years. I co-teach a second-grade inclusion classroom, where approximately 50 percent of my students are on Individualized Education Plans.
I support the three-year moratorium on high-stakes testing that is currently before the state Legislature. The emphasis on testing has narrowed our focus on what and how we teach.
Data and assessment are important, but teachers need a say in what assessments we find beneficial and appropriate. The current testing system doesn’t meet those standards.
Students come to us with an enormous range of abilities and experiences. Our job is to differentiate instruction in order to meet their needs. It is a contradiction to ask us to individualize instruction and then administer a single standardized test that will be used to evaluate and rate entire school systems, as well as individual teachers and students.
Although we don’t have actual high-stakes tests in Grade 2, we administer standardized tests in English language arts and mathematics four times a year in my district. These tests prepare teachers and students for the high-stakes tests in the upper grades.
Students on IEPs who are struggling readers or who do not speak English (I have students who are both) sit for hours to take these tests. We teachers have real concerns about the validity and the developmental appropriateness of the tests themselves. We find ourselves frustrated and asking each other, “What is actually being tested here?” I don’t see how this is helping us be effective educators.
Instruction for all students is negatively impacted during the weeks our school is administering the new PARCC tests in grades 3 through 5. Title I teachers, teachers of English language learners, speech pathologists, and others are assigned to administer PARCC rather than teach their classes. Computer labs and libraries are open only for testing. Students are not allowed to go out for recess.
Finally, all teachers know that teaching and learning are about making connections: Teachers connecting to students and their families, and students connecting to each other. Learning, especially in an urban setting, cannot happen without the deep connections and trust that develop in a classroom. And this can never be measured by a number.
Heather McCarthy, Chelsea public schools teacher
A proposed bill, H.340, currently up for review by the Massachusetts Legislature, includes a three-year moratorium on the PARCC tests and accountability associated with testing. If the bill passes, it would eliminate the use of state test data for three years, leaving little room for accountability, and allowing students to graduate from high school without a qualifying exit test. I think that would be a mistake for Massachusetts children.
As a third-grade teacher, I have analyzed the Common Core State Standards and implemented them in my classroom. I’ve adapted resources and co-planned with colleagues to ensure that my students are achieving the thinking and skills that the standards address. The standards are just starting to take hold in our state. Shouldn’t we have some data to show us how well they are working?
Last year, I taught a third-grader named Connor who had been found eligible for Special Education Services the year before. All year, we worked hard on improving his reading comprehension and building his foundational math skills. At the end of the year, Connor achieved Proficient on the Math MCAS, a huge success for both of us. The data showed that Connor had mastered the skills measured by MCAS, despite any disabilities he may have.
This year, my school administered the PARCC test. I know that PARCC is assessing the standards I taught. I am excited to see student data each year so that I can work with every child in my classroom just like I did with Connor. Data helps me figure this out and make sure that all of the students I teach are receiving the education they deserve.
As an elementary teacher in an urban, high-poverty school, I am called upon to be a teacher, nurse, therapist, coach, dean, mom, and dad throughout nearly every minute of every school day. And every day, I hold each and every one of my students accountable for putting effort into their learning. Shouldn’t I also be held accountable, along with districts and schools? I hope that we do not disrupt the momentum on college and career-ready standards by putting a moratorium on tests that can hold us all accountable for delivering high quality education. Our students deserve it.