BOSTON — It is a final rite of academic passage in Massachusetts that some educators argue should finally be put out to pasture.
At 11 a.m. Monday, a joint House and Senate committee will hold a virtual meeting to discuss whether graduating high school seniors this academic year should be excused from the 12th Grade MCAS exam.
“Our schools at this moment have to support our kids with the ongoing trauma of the pandemic,” said Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. “We’re all back together. But the Delta variant continues to be unpredictable.”
Because the variant is so contagious -- and because the largest pool of unvaccinated Americans spends five days a week in elementary schools -- there is concern whether, in some places, the school year might suffer an interruption.
Najimy pointed out that Massachusetts is one of only 11 states that requires taking a state proficiency test as a requirement for graduation. She said it’s time to phase it out, not just for 2022 but altogether.
The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System began in the 1990s to prop up learning standards that state lawmakers, at the time, believed lagged behind other states, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The state also views the test as a way to let parents know where their children, school, and district stand relative to others.
“Historically, the MTA and many families, particularly families of color, have been opposed to MCAS as a graduation requirement,” Najimy said. “Because it serves as a gatekeeper, feeds the school to prison pipeline, and the scores are used, essentially, to turn our urban districts over to private operators.”
Najimy said the committee hearing on Monday centers around a bill to create a more holistic way of measuring student performance. Teachers, in general, have long complained that MCAS has forced them to devote considerable classroom time “teaching to the test.”
Najimy said this impacts some communities more than others.
“Particularly in communities of color, where the scores are low, it forces us to drop a rich curriculum and raise those test scores,” she said.
The state says that only one percent of class time is dedicated to the test each year. Najimy said the problem with MCAS testing at lower grade levels is not the testing itself -- but the emphasis put on the testing.
“The high-stakes nature of MCAS pervades down to third grade,” Najimy said. “And therefore, if we remove the high-stakes nature of MCAS and use it as one of the multiple measures to understand our children, we take the harm out of MCAS. There’s nothing wrong with a standardized test used in a small way to give us data that we can use. But the larger picture is when MCAS becomes high-stakes, it becomes a weapon against our students of color.”
Najimy said students of color tend, on average, to do poorly on standardized tests because they are often struggling with basic issues of survival outside of school -- and they may be in districts struggling to fund schools adequately.
There have been changes made to MCAS testing requirements, including the MCAS graduation requirement being waived for the class of 2022.
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