137 MA Professors, Researchers Sign Statement against High-Stakes Testing

This press release went out today:

for immediate release, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013


More than 136 Massachusetts education professors and researchers today added their voices to a growing national rebellion against high-stakes testing. In a joint statement, the experts called for a new state assessment system that will better evaluate the competencies children need to succeed. The signers also urged an end to the state’s current overreliance on high-stakes standardized exams.

The signers say Massachusetts standardized tests “provide only one indicator of student achievement, and their high-stakes uses produce ever-increasing incentives to teach to the test, narrow the curriculum, or even to cheat.” Because of these negative consequences, the signers “call on the [Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education -- BESE] to stop using standardized tests in high-stakes decisions affecting students, teachers, and schools.”

The endorsers of the statement recommend that the Secretary of Education, Education Commissioner and BESE:

  • Work with educators, parents and the public to craft a new assessment system that will more fully assess the many competencies our children need to succeed in the 21st century and that will avoid the current overreliance on standardized tests.
  • Stop using MCAS test results as a barrier to high school graduation.
  • Prohibit the use of student test scores in educator evaluations and in decisions for hiring, firing, laying off or rewarding teachers.
  • Focus teacher evaluations on the appropriate use of evidence-based teaching practices and a comprehensive set of indicators of classroom and school-based student learning rather than one-shot test scores.

Professor Nancy Carlsson-Paige of Lesley University, a leading national early childhood education expert, is one of the statement’s four initiators. “The over-reliance on standardized tests, a destructive influence in American education for over a decade, has now become commonplace in classrooms for our youngest learners,” Carlsson-Paige said. “Increasingly, in early childhood programs across the country, testing and test prep are taking the place of the high-quality education experiences that early childhood professionals have long known are essential for long-term success in school and in life.”

Among the signers are former public school teachers who are now higher education faculty. Floris Wilma Ortiz, Assistant Professor at Westfield State University and the 2011 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, said, “I come from 23 years of teaching classes of English Language Learners. I know first-hand what the MCAS does to them. How can we unite our forces on behalf of a pretty quiet population, immigrants and ELLs who often are overlooked and measured with the same stick?”

Michael Patrick MacDonald, author of All Souls: A Family Story from Southie, is Author in Residence at Northeastern University. He sees the negative impact of the testing regime on his students’ writing ability. “The past decade of high-stakes standardized testing in our schools has created college classrooms where the crucial skills of critical thinking and expression are eclipsed by concerns for ‘what’s on the test?’” MacDonald said. “The college professor—particularly of writing–who wants students to express their ideas clearly has to spend precious classroom time undoing the paralysis caused by the culture of testing. With the lessons ingrained by high-stakes standardized exams, our schools fail to nurture the potential citizen leaders a democracy requires. And, ultimately, our nation fails the test.”

“The common sense outcry against the testing regime is gaining momentum across the nation,” said Dr. Leigh Patel, Associate Professor, Lynch School of Education, Boston College. “This anti-testing statement reminds all of us who are interested in the welfare of children to join together to stop the madness that has conflated learning with test score production for the benefit of testing corporations.”

Dr. Monty Neill, executive director of FairTest, also helped initiate the statement. “Across the nation, parents, students, teachers, other community members and academics are saying, ‘Enough!’ to the overuse and misuse of standardized tests,” Neill said. “This statement by a broad range of Massachusetts professors and researchers is an important addition to the growing national test reform movement.”


To read the statement, click here. To see the full list of endorsers, click here.


60 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Yet ed reform...

    …has put Massachusetts first in the nation in many indicators. I think we are doing more or less the right thing, though it should be constantly re-evaluated. Other nations don’t wring their hands over testing, and for that matter we expect students to master material on tests all the time until the state gives the test then testing is all of a sudden a horrible thing to subject students to.

    • Christopher--you are thinking of an overall average

      This point is about the ones who get ignored because opinion leaders focus on the average.

      Floris Wilma Ortiz, Assistant Professor at Westfield State University and the 2011 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, said, “I come from 23 years of teaching classes of English Language Learners. I know first-hand what the MCAS does to them. How can we unite our forces on behalf of a pretty quiet population, immigrants and ELLs who often are overlooked and measured with the same stick?”

      It is the policy of Massachusetts to take every kid, including the ones who just moved here a month ago from places like the Dominican Republic, and put them at a desk with an MCAS for hours at a time. It’s hours of pointless frustration for them, and it convinces them that education is pointless as opposed to relevant or empowering.
      At the very least, christopher, can you appreciate that even some kids are not ready to take a full English MCAS at 10th grade, and that it is a disservice to them to make them take it just as it would be to make you take a Chinese government civil service test?

      • Hence the need for re-evaluation

        No we should not have the same expectations for kids who just got here as for those who have gone to US schools all along. Anyone who has been here, barring documented special needs, should be able to pass the exam by tenth grade.

      • Hi Joel

        I’m a fan of your posts over the years. I know you’re a teacher, and just wanted to engage in a friendly way.

        My understanding:

        1. A 10th grade kid who arrived a month before the MCAS wouldn’t have to take English part. It’s optional, so far as I know.

        2. He would have to take the math test. But he could take it in Spanish.

        3. Just FYI, the results of first year ELL kids are not included in school and district summary results, or in accountability reporting.

        • GGW, while I've got you here,

          can you fill me in on how SABIS can be for-profit? I’ve been studying up on charters and Massachusetts seems not to allow for-profit charters.

          (One thing I’ve learned: Massachusetts seems to do charters better than the rest of the country).

          For everyone else: please ignore this comment so I don’t cause a full-blown hijacking of the topic.

          • I could wager a guess...

            A non-profit corporation is established, is granted the charter and then signs a management deal with for-profit SABIS to run the school for them. Just like a landlord hires a real estate management company to run their property.

            • There is such a thing as an educational

              management organization that can be for profit. SABIS does operate as an EMO, but I’m unsure of whether or not it can hire itself as an EMO.

          • hi mark

            i don’t know the rules exactly, but my guess is same as pogo’s: there’s a board similar to a nonprofit like the Boys and Girls Club; they contract with SABIS; and they can break that contract.

            for example, Boston Renaissance charter during the 1990s had a contract with for-profit edison. but the board decided to cut loose edison.

            • Thanks.

              They seem to be an outlier.

            • If you look on page 57 in the SABIS application for a charter school in Brockton, you’ll note that 6% went for a “management fee” and another 8% toward the “licensing fee” for the SABIS program and were based on the per pupil revenue only. It does not include public or private grants, or any other “non-tuition revenue” which includes the state and federal nutrition funding, transportation reimbursements, a state grant related to Academic Support Services, and federal entitlement grants including Title I funding directed to the school’s tutorial programs, IDEA funding directed at the school’s Special Education program, and Title IIA Improving Educator Quality etc.

        • Hi, GGW

          Thanks for pointing that out. On point 1) I may be wrong about the “one month” because it might have been two months. This was essentially a complaint from a ELL co-worker a year or two ago. The statement we hear as teachers is the EVERYONE takes the test. Where did you get that exception info?
          As for 2) & 3), I’m not so worried about a few kids dragging down my school’s average–it’s those individual kids who have to take a test that they aren’t prepared for that I’m concerned about. The 10th grade MCAS is the sort of test that you really have been in Massachusetts schools for a few years to get accustomed to, for it to have any sort of meaning. But for those kids, new to the English language and our kind of math curriculum, 3 hours with one of those test booklets is a pointless & frustrating experience. It’s not a selling point as to why students should learn to think mathematically.

    • Christopher, how is

      you conclusion that ed reform put Massachusetts first in the nation warranted? And what do you mean by ed reform? Do you mean the new funding formula? Do you mean MCAS, which once tested kids in grades 4, 8, and 10 or NCLB which mandates testing in grades 3-8 in addition to MCAS’s science test in Grade 9 and ELA and math in Grade 10?

      Plenty of other nations wring their hands over testing. In Japan, kids kill themselves over their test scores. They spend their adolescence at school and in cramming schools after school. They go to college for a rest. In China, test scores have been more important than learning. They even have a term for the people who score the highest on tests and can’t do anything worthwhile beyond school. See Yong Zhao’s work for details. China is moving away from their crazy testing regimen. Finland has high-stakes testing for kids who pursue higher education. Rationing higher education by test scores is common across Europe.

      The letter Lisa is talking about is the re-evaluation you are calling for.

      • I don't think it's an accident...

        …that we passed ed reform in the 1990s and can now say we are first. Ed reform included MCAS as a key component. At very least I’m arguing that we should not mess too much with a system that is producing results. Japan goes too far; I was basically talking about Europe. By wringing hands I was talking not so much about the kids as the policy makers. When I took a sample 10th grade MCAS several years ago followed by discussion there were people from Europe present who indicated they tested all along without much complaint. I’m concerned about how it is used to evaluate teachers, but I have no qualms whatsoever about telling a kid thou shalt not graduate if thou dost not pass a basic (and yes, the test I took was pretty basic) test.

        • MCAS original intent

          I wasn’t here then, but I don’t think how MCAS is being used now (particularly post No Child Left Behind) is consistent with how it was intended to be used back in the 90′s. Maybe someone can weigh in on this.

          • I don't have the records handy...

            But I did transcripts during debates and hearings wherein bureaucrats assured legislators that these test scores would be used only to measure learning, and would not be used to evaluate teaching. This is, as was said repeatedly, because test scores would be invalid and unreliable for that purpose.

            sabutai   @   Fri 22 Feb 12:07 AM
        • what are we teaching?

          I don’t think it’s an accident that we passed ed reform in the 1990s and can now say we are first.

          Has Massachusetts stopped teaching the idea that correlation does not imply causation? You need to prove that A causes B. I had waffles for breakfast yesterday and our snowpack decreased by half. More waffles!!

          • Don't be silly

            Waffles have no link to snow. Legislation to fix education is enacted for the express purpose of making education better. Correlation does not guarantee causation for unrelated things, but in this case causation is exactly what was intended and it would seem produced.

            • show me

              causation is exactly what was intended and it would seem produced

              “Would seem”? Show me, particularly in the case of high stakes testing.

              • Are you arguing that we were already first?

                I suppose that may be the case if you’d like to cite that. I’m basically making an if it ain’t broke/don’t mess with suceess argument.

                • here is my point

                  I believe that the correlation / causation issue is more dangerous in the cases where it “seems” that one thing should cause the other, because people just assume that it should be so without any actual evidence. In this case, we also have the “one data point” problem, but I’ll pass on that for now.

                  Here is a less silly example: Suppose I have a cold and I don’t understand the difference between a virus and an infection. I somehow get my hands on some antibiotics and in a few days, boy do I feel better. It must have been the antibiotics because medicines are supposed to make you feel better and, in your words, “causation is exactly what was intended and it would seem produced”. But in this case, we know that isn’t true.

                  If you can point to any studies that show causation between any aspects of ed reform and performance that also compensate for the many other uncontrolled variables in the time between when education reform was enacted and now, I’d love to read them.

        • Christopher, I agree that

          there is a connection between MCAS and our ranking on international tests. But so what? Tests scores don’t go to college. Test scores don’t work. Test scores only compete against test scores in the global market. The fundamental issue with correlation is between test scores and learning.

          There is a host of reasons why high-stakes testing is problematic; all center on the fundamentally flawed belief that test results strongly correlate with learning and that MCAS tests. In fact, they don’t. English Language Arts tests may have 4 vocabulary questions that are supposed to measure student achievement on that standard. The limited number of test items mean an unrepresentative sample of what students know.
          Another problem is test score inflation–the more kids test, the better they take tests.

          Teaching to the test limits teaching to what is tested. Schools under pressure to boost test scores routinely spend time drilling on test questions. This limits time spent on higher-level learning activities.

          Not to mention the fact that high stakes leads to cheating.

          • Then we're overthinking it.

            Teaching to the test is absolutely not necessary if the subject per se is taught well. Teachers give tests all the time so the test taking skill is likely there anyway. I want every teenager do be able to do arithmetic without a calculator. The way to see if that is being accomplished is to test. I am absolutely embarrassed as an American how far behind our rankings are compared to other countries, yet we continue to cheer USA, USA! without much cause. Massachusetts by itself, however, I believe I’ve read really is at or near the top. All the evidence I have seen (and I teach, btw) suggests that we are basically on the right track though implementation could use some tweaking in some cases.

            • With all due respect,

              no one is “overthinking” anything. We’re dealing with something very complicated that is treated like it is very simple, not just by you, but by our country in general.

              Teacher tests are much different than standardized tests. Sort of like making something by hand is different than making something on an assembly line. A teacher crafts a test based on what he teaches and changes it according to its results. It’s like a hand-made suit, tailored to a very specific body, something that the tailor can and does alter. A standardized test is like one of those off-the-rack JCPenney suits made in your size, but doesn’t fit very well.

              As you know, I’m a teacher. Joel’s a teacher. Sabutai is a teacher. LisaG is a nationally-recognized expert on education. (I’ve actually met all three of them in person). I suspect there are more of us on here, though some, like Jasiu and Pogo, may just be very well-informed for all I know. Experience can be a plus, but without theoretical background, it’s often misleading.

              • Hi Mark!

                I just pay attention. I’m a concerned parent of school-age children, someone who has participated in local government, and I know quite a few teachers and all of my school committee members.

              • So are you advocating...

                …the “it works in practice, but does it work in theory?” argument. OK, being slightly snarky here, but I’m starting to resent that my own experience and evidence is being discounted. Really, I’m not just some grumpy old man saying teachers aren’t worth anything.

                • Christopher, I was trying to draw the

                  distinction between levels of proof. When I judge high school debate, for example, a well-reasoned argument loses to a reasoned argument with evidence to support it. Put very simply, there’s a hierarchy to argument: lowest is reasoning without evidence; second lowest is reasoning with personal anecdote; higher is reasoning with expert testimony; highest is reasoning with a solid base of research. Research and expert testimony are better forms of evidence. That’s why I’m always trying cite sources in my writing. I’ve included two of them in this thread alone.

                  Some of us might actually qualify as experts based on our education and/or experience. As far as I know, LisaG is the only one with the credentials to back up that statement. I stopped short of my doctorate, but I spent 5 years learning to read and reading educational research. I’ve continued to read pretty deeply since then. I check 3 to 5 education blogs/sites daily. You may be experiencing the equivalent of a debate with David on constitutional law or Stomv on energy. With that said, I don’t think you should shy away from a discussion with anyone. Experts offer a point of view. That doesn’t make them right. But discussions with them can be frustrating. I think, however, your frustration comes, not from who you’re talking with, so much as when. We’ve been living and discussing Massachusetts education reform for the last 18 years. You’re saying things we started hearing back then.

                  I hope I’ve said all this well. I don’t mean to be obnoxious to you.

                  • It is a bit difficult to formally cite one's own experience.

                    I realize anecdote is low on the hierarchy and that the plural of anecdote is not data. I am however, a little leary of treating an exercise in social science like this is the same way as hard science where there are absolute laws of physics for example. I took logic in college so I hope at very least I’ve avoided any number of logical fallacy traps. I think in this particular discussion I’m hearing a lot of, this is how it has to work or always does work (ie teaching to the test), and so a single example of someone who found another way is all it takes to show that it does not always have to be that way.

                    • I would say then, that the burden of proof

                      is on you.If there is “another way, ” what is it?

                      There is a well-established, if not well-recognized, theoretical basis that supports the fact that high-stakes testing leads to teaching to the test. The version most removed from education is Goodheart’s Law: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” The simpler version is Campbell’s Law: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

                      Thanks for not taking offense. I felt like I was saying what you already knew.

                    • The other way is what I have experienced.

                      I’ve told the story of my AP History class several times. My teacher was certain that the major essay would not be post-WWII and bragged she had a great track record of predicting what the essays would be. Turns out that essay was on the Civil Rights Movement, but we all still were able to write about it and get good scores because she taught that material. Someone teaching to the test would have said heck with the Civil Rights Movement and come test time we’d all be in trouble. Yes, we did practice essays of the type expected by the test throughout the year, but they were assigned on material being taught anyway. There was no sense of, “We interrupt your regularly scheduled history lesson so we can practice for an irrelevant test.”

                    • the comparison doesn't work because of the consequences

                      I’ve told the story of my AP History class several times.

                      The big difference (and someone correct me if I’m wrong) is that the pressures on the teachers, students, and school systems for AP exams is not anywhere near the same as MCAS. I’ve never seen the pressure that is applied to MCAS for AP: Schools are not taken over, teachers are not reassigned, etc. if AP scores do not go up. Students still graduate even if their AP exams do not meet a minimum score.

                      If MCAS consequences were taken down to the level of AP consequences, you’d see a lot more of what your experience was and less of the “teach to the test” that we have with MCAS.

                    • That argument would work better if there were higher failure rates for APs.

                      I’m not arguing that nobody cares, that people fail the APs and life goes on. What I’m arguing is that at least in my school there were high rates of PASSING a much more difficult test WITHOUT deliberately teaching to it. The school would not need to be taken over, teachers would not need to be reassigned because it works anyway.

                      I also took a sample 10th grade MCAS and only missed a couple of questions. I could identify which HS class I learned the material in despite going to private school in NH which obviously wasn’t teaching to the MCAS. Since it provided a quality education anyway there was no problem with my passing a standardized test.

                    • Two very different tests.

                      AP tests are achievement tests taken by a very different population. Generally speaking, AP tests and the classes are taken voluntarily, usually by high-achieving students. Unless the teacher is being held accountable for his test scores (pass rates, for example), there is no punishment for poor performance. Principals aren’t punished or rewarded for AP scores. Schools aren’t punished for AP scores. When teachers in the suburbs (like me) feel the pressure on test scores, you know the incentives to teach to the test are strong.

                      Probably the biggest reason why teachers teach to the test is the fact that some students are not able to pass it easily. This goes for my intellectually-disabled students whose parents want them to go to college and whose scores count for our school. This goes for the disadvantaged kid for whom out-of-school factors prevent him from learning. So more time gets spent writing the same type of essay over and over and answering multiple-choice questions, questions which lack the complexity of a AP question. In my school, and I’m pretty sure every other school, teachers spend time on actual learning beyond MCAS. The issue is time spent on it. I’m willing to bet the impact of scores, the more time is spent on test prep.

                    • or put another way

                      Goodheart’s Law: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” The simpler version is Campbell’s Law: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

                      I had someone (a teacher) put it to me this way once: “When you can’t measure what you value, you value what you measure.”

    • Some "reevaluation" is long overdue...

      Tests are not being used as a tool to improve best practices, but a club that determines whether a student graduates or impacts a teachers job. The leverage testing has over the student and teacher distorts the education process. Testing to the test is a reality and any educational disciplines that are not part of the test–like civics–is neglected, having an obvious negative impact on society.

      What is so hard about making tests part of the tool box, instead of the only tool that will be used?

      • The ELA part of MCAS

        didn’t harm my school’s curriculum much at all, but MCAS Biology caused a major dumbing down of the curriculum.

        We are a nation of testing fundamentalists, and we harm our students in our blind, uquestioning adherence to it.

        • Why and how...

          …did the Biology MCAS dumb down curriculum? If the curriculum was already above and beyond what MCAS required the school should have kept it and the kids all pass with flying colors. Sounds like a case of teaching to the test syndrome, which is not at all necessary if the subject is already being well-taught.

          • "dumbing down" could mean a lot of things

            perhaps, for example, the curriculum requirements forced the school to focus more on test prep-ish sticking to the text book, and less opportunity for biology classes to expose students to actual biology, with lab activities or hands-on learning.

            When I was in bio, we took trips down into the swampy areas at my high school and did survey work. In other science classes I took, we walked to the ocean and used some fairly sophisticated science to make plankton counts in the water. There’s a lot of applied learning that can be done with science that unfortunately doesn’t “fit” when every day has to be spent on something that’s in the MCAS.

            RyansTake   @   Tue 19 Feb 9:13 PM
            • If that's true that's an example of an appropriate tweak.

              A good biology class would have all of what you describe AND allow students to pass the test basically by default. If you spend everyday consciously thinking about the test, you’re doing it wrong IMO. Certainly there is something you learn on those field trips that can contribute to material on a good test.

              • Most teachers have no choice

                but to spend everyday consciously thinking about the test.

                MCAS results will start to become available in the fall. My boss will ask me what we can do to boost them. As department head, I’ll be compelled to come up with a plan and get my department to implement it. The superintendent and school committee will ask about the test scores and want to know what we do about it. They’ll compare us to our more affluent neighbors and want us to be doing as well as they are (our school district is pretty well off, but our surrounding towns are even more so). My principal won’t have a choice in the matter. It’s is called accountability. You can’t tweak it out of the system. That’s your reason for having the system to begin with.

          • not reality

            If the curriculum was already above and beyond what MCAS required the school should have kept it and the kids all pass with flying colors. Sounds like a case of teaching to the test syndrome, which is not at all necessary if the subject is already being well-taught.

            In an ideal world, maybe. In the real world, where teachers, principals, and administrators have their jobs on the line, nothing is left to chance. I’ve seen it up close and personal in one of the top systems in the state (country). One of my kids missed several questions on the 4th grade MCAS in a section that should have been a snap for her. I went in to talk to the principal to see if something was amiss. I was told that many kids also did less than optimal on that section and it was pinned to a test-taking strategy. In response, they were making changes all the way back to kindergarten to ensure that future students handled the section the right way.

          • It shifted instruction to those

            topics that could be tested. Labs are one thing that can’t be tested. The science portion of MCAS is taught in Grade 9. That means my high school is responsible for whatever learning should have happened at their middle-school.

            You make an unwarranted assumption when you say that teaching to the test “isn’t necessary if the subject is already being well-taught.” That just isn’t the case. Schools aren’t credited for a subject being “well-taught.” They’re credited for test scores.

            • You can't easily test in a lab setting...

              …but certainly concepts and principles that are demonstrated by experiments can be tested. I’m confused by your last line. Seems to me a test score would in fact measure how well-taught the class was.

              • This is the point I've been trying to make:

                What is tested does not equal what is learned.a

                This is what I call “test fundamentalism”: taking test scores as a valid measure of what student have learned and what they can do. It’s like saying, Genesis says God created the world in 6 days. A test says a student is in the 75 percentile, he must know more than 74% of his peers. But that score must be interpreted.

                Standardized tests are statistically created instruments meant to sample student knowledge and skills. The key word here is “sample.” We can test, we can rank students, teachers, and schools, but there’s no way to know that our sample is a valid measure of learning or knowledge.

                In your AP US class, you undoubtedly had some discussions. If the class was any good, you learned unmeasurable facts or skills. For example, I teach Freudian criticism with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I teach Marxism with 1984. I teach existentialism with Hamlet. Those topics and the effects of my teaching are not measurable on any existing test. My students and I consider this good teaching, but MCAS doesn’t recognize it. It The sample of skills and knowledge is too small to recognize what I do. I may have brought kids to previously unreached areas of intellectual experience, but I haven’t taught them to write a 5 paragraph essay.

  2. These tests also stifle our brightest kids

    There is no doubt that kids in advanced classes pass minimum standards. However, because of the “high stakes” of these tests — a school’s public reputation, teachers’ data, and let’s face it, even real estate values based on published MCAS results — many of these kids spend hours being prepped to run up their scores on the test instead of more challenging and stimulating work. Talk to some top-of-the-class kids in advanced classes and ask them.

    • Have to admit that sounds counterintuitive

      My experience with testing is with Advanced Placement classes and the exams that go with them. Advanced students don’t need to be prepped so hard; it will fall into place on its own. We should be encouraging challenging and stimulating work and my own experience (as a top student if I do say so myself) suggests that these are in no way mutually exclusive. I also know we were taught material in my AP US History that my teacher was convinced would not be on the test, because it was her job to teach history, not teach to the test. Turns out she was wrong about what material would not be on the test, but it was OK because she taught it anyway and most of us passed the AP exam by comfortable margins.

      • About AP exams vs. MCAS

        I teach both AP math and 10th grade Geometry, so the only kids I have who don’t take either AP or MCAS are the AP kids who decide not to take the AP exam (a couple years ago one of my A+ calculus students got into Harvard and skipped the AP exam because Harvard won’t give credit for it–perfect rational decision–why spend four hours in unpleasant testing which you’ll get no credit for?) or an 11th grader who passed the MCAS but has to re-take Geometry.
        The difference between AP and MCAS is stark. There’s disappointment if you get a 1 or a 2 on the AP, but it won’t affect where you go to college. If you get a low MCAS score, that means more time spent reviewing for the retest, which you’ll have to miss classes to take, and the threat that you won’t get a diploma–and in some of these families, they might need to you earn money rather than spend a fifth year in HS. Moreover, for some kids, passing the MCAS requires as much focus as they have ever put forward, and they don’t have much left in the tank for another 2 hours of classes those 5 days out the year they are testing.
        And here’s another thing to think about, Christopher: it sounds like you were a student who did above average in school. I was, too. But when I became a teacher, it was then that I learned just how many kids struggle, struggle, struggle to do basic academic work. When you are a student in a class, you have to focus on yourself and what works for you. But when you’re a teacher, you have to watch for the ones who lose focus and figure out why.
        I argue for these ELL kids to have a burdensome testing requirement removed because while MCAS is not that much of a burden to middle-class Anglophone students, MCAS does not really help the recent immigrant ELL student see education as a path to freedom, security, or fulfillment. At least give them an extra year or two to fit into the American system before you make them sit through it.

        • I'm with you on ELL.

          The skipping AP exams wasn’t part of my experience because in my school you were required to take the exam if you took the class. I do think that every non-special needs student should do whatever it takes to accomplish a meaningful graduation. How is this pressure different from other tests? You should always do your best and if you fail a teacher-given final there’s a good chance you fail the class entirely. Doing that too often will affect your graduation prospects too.

      • I've got similar experience, but

        in New York State, years ago. There and back then it was the Regents exam. We spent September through May on the AP History curriculum and it was one of the best classes I ever had. After the AP exam, we spent the next few weeks prepping for the Regents exam, and I hated it. And back then there was very little pressure for the exam, since results weren’t published by school and teachers weren’t rated on their Regents results.

        Fast forward to today. One of the brightest kids I know complains regularly about the MCAS and how much time is wasted prepping for them compared with doing more interesting work. I don’t know when you were in school, but if it was more than a decade or so ago you were not in school when the results of these tests mattered so much.

  3. What I find particularly disconcerting is that private, Catholic, or home school students in Massachusetts do not take MCAS. The reason purported is that Private, Catholic, and home school students use a different curriculum, so they don’t have the “privilege” of taking MCAS! Also, Private and Catholic student scores are not included in a city or towns AYP.

    As a high school teacher, I’ve know several kids who did the classwork, but just could not pass that test. If a student were a poor test taker, it might be to their advantage to be “home schooled” senior year just to get a diploma! I wonder how many savvy parents utilized an alternative route to high school diploma for their MCAS failing child.

    Of course we can’t make it mandatory for MCAS participation for Private colleges and universities, but perhaps, it is time Massachusetts make MCAS mandatory for acceptance into our Public Colleges and Universities. That might be the fastest way to get the BESE to rethink high-stakes testing.

    • I would suggest...

      …that MCAS isn’t required of private and Catholic schools because we are already confident that education is high quality in those settings. Personally I’m not as confident about home-schooling and would require those students to be tested. If we could guarantee that my town’s public high school were of the same quality as the Catholic high school I attended then the MCAS would be a lot less necessary. MCAS is by default required for admission to our state schools since high school graduation is I assume a requirement. It would not be practical to require it of students from out of state though most private and Catholic school graduates could probably pass it anyway. After all, the mission of most private and Catholic schools is to be college prepatory.

      • You give far too much credit

        to Catholic schools. Yes, there are some out there, but there are lousy ones as well. There’s no reason to be confident that they are all high-quality settings. And how would you know they were high quality without test scores to tell you?

      • MCAS not required, Accuplacer mandated for state students

        High school graduation is a requirement for our state colleges, but MCAS isn’t. It would be interesting to compare the Accuplacer examination scores, which is required of all students in the Mass Public College system, of students who took the MCAS, with those students who didn’t because they went to private or catholic schools or were home schooled. It is going to be more interesting as online schools proliferate in Massachusetts.

        • Accuplacer is BADLY-DESIGNED Assessment

          If a student misses an arithmetic question about dividing fractions like 17/31 by 2/11, Accuplacer will not even let them try questions about algebra–this is really unfair to the kids as far as I’m concerned because it is entirely possible for a good student to have a hang up on tricky arithmetic but solidly understand algebra.

  4. Just a quick question for the 137

    What would a

    new assessment system that will more fully assess the many competencies our children need to succeed in the 21st century and that will avoid the current overreliance on standardized tests.

    look like?

    • It would be...

      … a much mroe comprehensive system of assessment that relies on “authentic accountability systems” that include a broad range of information on all academic and social aspects of a particular school for parents and the public. And that uses that information to improve schools across the board rather than simply to fire “bad” teachers.

      In addition to assessing what students “know” and how many questions they can answer correctly on the MCAS, a genuine accountability system also assesses the quality of opportunities, resources, instruction, and curriculum that are offered to students.

      It would be consistent with these 7 principles:

    • Made my suggestion five years ago

      Anyone who cares or has insomnia can find it here:


      sabutai   @   Fri 22 Feb 12:09 AM
  5. Better ways to assess and evaluate

    If you go to the FairTest website, you will find a variety of materials. Citizens for Public Schools has introduced legislation repeatedly that would create a new system (Carl Sciortino and others have sponsored it); CPS predecessor CARE crafted the approach, and we at FairTest have used it for fact sheets and op eds – see “Better Ways” fact sheet at http://www.fairtest.org/fact%20sheets/k-12, which has links to more detailed pieces (see also multiple measures). Our current newsletter has an article on the NY Performance Standards Consortium which uses performance tasks and has a variance allowing 26 high schools to use those instead of state exams (except they give language arts), and their results far exceed New York City as a whole. See also learningrecord.org for another approach to evaluating students.

  6. Lisa Guisbond on TV to discuss testing statement

    FairTest’s Lisa Guisbond will discuss the statement by 137 Massachusetts researchers and professors opposing the overuse and misuse of MCAS and other standardized tests. It will be on Boston Neighborhood Network BNN TV (Channel 9 cable in Boston) at 5:30, 9:30 and 11:00 pm. There is also a live stream on the web at: https://www.bnntv.org/tune-in/news-info.

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