Amid the disruptions to schools caused by the coronavirus outbreak a renewed push is underway to put the brakes on MCAS testing.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association, which has long sought to ease state's standardized testing requirements, is lobbying hard for bipartisan legislation that would impose a four-year moratorium on the MCAS and suspend the requirement that students must pass the exam to graduate.

Merrie Najimy, the union's president, argues that teachers and students don't need the added stress of high-stakes testing, amid lingering effects of the pandemic and the challenges of reopening school in the fall.

She said the pitfalls of remote learning have had an outsize effect on low-income and minority students.

"MCAS would do nothing more than reflect those problems. Worse, it would be used as a weapon to deem these students and schools as failing," she said.

The proposal, which has nearly 60 sponsors in the state House and Senate, would create a commission to study alternatives to the MCAS requirements.

If it succeeds, the state wouldn't administer the tests for at least four years, and annual school assessments would no longer be based on students' MCAS results. The state would need a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education to be exempted from federal assessment and reporting requirements.

At least two states, Georgia and South Carolina, have announced plans to seek waivers to suspend another round of standardized tests next school year.

"We're talking about testing students at a time when there's already so much disruption to education and emotional trauma as a result of the pandemic," said Rep. Christina Minicucci, D-North Andover, a co-sponsor of the bill and mother of two school-age children. "This seems like a good time to hit pause."

Minicucci said the $32 million the state spends on standardized testing would be better spent on academic development and remote learning.

"Every dollar spent on high-stakes testing is a dollar taken away from the classroom," she said.

Gov. Charlie Baker got a federal waiver to cancel the MCAS graduation tests this past spring after closing public and private schools to prevent spread of COVID-19.

Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, who co-chairs the Legislature's Education Committee, hasn't signed onto the proposal but thinks easing some of the state's testing requirements is worth considering. She gets regular complaints from educators, administrators and parents about the impact on students from over-testing.

"They're concerned that's there too much testing, not just MCAS, and that students are only being taught to test," she said. "It's creating a lot of anxiety."

Still, Lovely said eliminating the MCAS without a plan "wouldn't be responsible," and the state would need another way to measure student and school performance.

The MCAS, a hallmark of standardized tests in Massachusetts education for more than 25 years, is required annually for students in grades 3 to 8. Students in the 10th grade must pass the math, English and science exams to graduate from high school.

More than 70,000 students take the MCAS every year.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group's newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com.

 

Recommended for you