Does the state need a moratorium on using MCAS as a graduation requirement and in teacher evaluations?
Matthew J. Bach
Malden resident; history teacher, Andover Public Schools
The time has come for a moratorium on high stakes testing in Massachusetts. A moratorium not only offers a period for study and reflection on student assessment, it’s fair, just, and essential to quality teaching and educational outcomes.
At this point, nobody who has even superficially studied the issue would deny that standardized testing’s most accurate measurement is students’ socioeconomic status. Affluent communities have high scores while poorer communities do not, and the rewards or punishments subsequently meted out by the state provide a foundation to the argument that high-stakes testing promotes class division and white supremacy.
However, that doesn’t mean students in well-off towns are benefiting in terms of teaching practice and quality curriculum. On the contrary, in Andover we waste weeks of instructional time on MCAS, and teachers are incentivized to augment lessons to the test while working under the threatening state evaluation system that utilizes MCAS scores to rate licensed educators.
Economist Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times in 2011 that jobs that do not follow explicit rules are ones which “ . . . will tend to grow even in the face of technological progress.” Standardized tests are best at measuring the concrete operational thinking required for routine tasks. Entities such as the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education argue that high stakes testing is necessary to prepare the workforce, while we are actually training our students for obsolescence.
Standardized tests do a very poor job of measuring formal operational thinking, a process that cultivates creativity, inquisitiveness, how to work collaboratively with others, or persistence in the face of setbacks. With a moratorium in place we can focus on how to teach and assess those skills.
A moratorium will not end assessment, but rather – to paraphrase Holy Cross Professor Jack Schneider – allow the Commonwealth to actually begin assessing students in an authentic and productive manner.
So, whether testing penalizes cities with large communities of color such as Lawrence by assigning state receivership that revokes local democratic control of the schools, or fundamentally reduces opportunities for students entering a shrinking middle class, it’s time to step back and investigate, envision, and create progressive classroom-based assessments.
Winchester resident; Board member, Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education
A moratorium on high stakes standardized testing is bad for students and should be defeated.
Statewide standardized tests help teachers, students, and parents by providing critical information about whether students are meeting learning expectations or need extra support to stay on track. A moratorium would mean the loss of important feedback and the ability for teachers to act on that feedback. This would disproportionately impact students who are most in need of support.
MCAS results provide an objective measure of school and district performance. The tests help identify schools that need improvement and highlight where best practices are happening that can be learned from and replicated. A moratorium would send us back to a time when parents, community members, and policymakers had no way of measuring a school or a district’s performance.
MCAS promotes equity in education by ensuring that the same bar for learning is set for every student in every school across the state. Before learning standards and MCAS were established, every district set its own academic expectations. Some districts were very high and others too low. This led to gross inequities and wide gaps in student achievement.
In May 2015, a dozen national civil and human rights groups announced their “opposition to anti-testing efforts springing up across the country,” stating that data from some standardized tests are “the only available, consistent, and objective source of data about disparities in educational outcomes.” One of the groups noted that the data is “used to advocate for greater resource equity in schools and more fair treatment for students of color, low-income students, students with disabilities, and English learners.”
MCAS works to improve student outcomes. The proof is in the results. Since Massachusetts introduced MCAS as a graduation requirement in 2003, student achievement has steadily improved and our public school students now lead the nation in academic performance based on national testing data. MCAS alone is not responsible for that success, but it is a central and critical component.
MCAS plays an essential role in ensuring our students are getting the education they need to be on the right track for future success. Any attempts to place a moratorium on MCAS should be soundly defeated.
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