The role of the MCAS exam continues to piss off the education community


BOSTON, Mass. (State House News Service) – In 2018, more than a decade after being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, Ryan Boyd had passed nearly all of the MCAS standardized exams he needed to graduate from Marlborough High School.

All that was left in his way was the math test. But on his last try in his senior year, Boyd lost two points. “That’s the only reason I couldn’t graduate when I graduated in 2018,” Boyd told the education committee on Monday. “Do you know how heartbroken I was to learn this?” I want to repeat it again today for everyone in this room: the only reason I was prevented from graduating in 2018 is because I failed my math MCAS of two. points after putting in so much hard work and dedication to pass the test.

More than 50,000 students have faced similar circumstances over the past 20 years, a point that a chorus of lawmakers and education reform advocates hammered home on Monday as they called on the legislature to eliminate state MCAS graduation requirements or to suspend testing altogether. “Please never let another child’s future be colonized,” added Boyd, who said he finally graduated this spring after the school retroactively gave up. to test requirements.

Teacher unions and some education activists have long targeted the state’s MCAS system, complaining that defining exams as a bar that all students must clear forces teachers to focus on test preparation and creates unnecessary stress in the classroom.

A bill introduced by Sen. Jo Comerford and Rep. James Hawkins (S 293 / H 612) would decouple MCAS from graduation and instead provide what Comerford called “multiple paths” for students to prove. ‘They meet the criteria to complete high school, some of which would not require a standardized test. The legislation would also pilot new ways to measure district and teacher performance, less reliant on MCAS scores and more influenced by community input in partnership with the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment.

“I believe in responsibility,” Comerford said Monday. “What I don’t believe in is allowing a single test to determine whether or not a student graduates from high school whether or not that student passes all of their required courses.”

Lawmakers created the MCAS system in a 1993 education reform law aimed at improving accountability and school performance. The first tests were administered in 1998, and since the class of 2003, students must achieve sufficient marks to graduate. Most students take the graduation-related English, math, and science tests in Grade 10, although they can retake the exams if they don’t score high enough.

Asked about efforts to reform or replace MCAS exams, Gov. Charlie Baker said on Monday he would be “very aggressive in supporting the ongoing process of using diagnostic tools to ensure children receive the basic education to which they are entitled “.

The implementation of MCAS exams, Baker said, has led to a “profound and significant improvement” in educational performance and created a “level playing field” for examining how districts, school staff and the students are doing well. “People may say they don’t like MCAS one way or another, but the simple truth is that MCAS plus the funding law that was put in place in the reform bill. education has been a huge success, ”Baker told reporters. “It has given Massachusetts what most people consider to be the best schools in the country overall and has also had a very significant and positive impact on underachieving children and school districts.”

Citizens for Public Schools executive director Lisa Guisbond told lawmakers that since 2003, more than 52,000 Massachusetts students have reached the end of their senior years without meeting MCAS graduation requirements. More than two-thirds of them, she said, were disabled. “The devastation of COVID, inflicted disproportionately on our communities of color, underscores the need to change a rating system that has done more to cement inequalities and racism in place than to remove them,” said Guisbond.

Supporters of the system say the constellation of tests plays a crucial role in tracking the condition of Massachusetts schools at the state level and in identifying gaps that need to be addressed.

Voicing his opposition to both the Comerford-Hawkins Bill and other proposals to suspend administration of high-stakes testing, Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education executive director Ed Lambert told lawmakers that changing MCAS standards or graduation requirements could hamper efforts to lift underserved districts, especially in the middle of implementation. of a recent school funding reform law known as the Student Opportunity Act. “The information provided by MCAS is integral to understanding whether we are serving students in the ways our state constitution, study opportunity law and timing require of us,” Lambert said. “Seeking less information on state-wide achievement gaps by undermining the annual MCAS assessment would be like turning a blind eye to inequality. “

During Monday’s hearing, union leaders, school committee members, educators and students – including the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which on Friday linked the tests to white supremacy – called MCAS a flawed system. that does more harm than good.

Louis Kruger, professor emeritus at Northeastern University and board member of Citizens for Public Schools, said MCAS had “unintended negative consequences for underserved students.” “As one scholar pointed out, standardized tests are almost as old as the gasoline automobile,” Kruger said. “In either case, it is now evident that the overuse of these technologies has exacerbated their unintended consequences to such an extent that their (dis) advantages often outweigh the usefulness they might have had.”

State education officials have changed plans for MCAS in response to the pandemic and its impact on student learning, dropping the requirement that students take tests to graduate for the classroom of 2022. Education Commissioner Jeff Riley plans to present “high-level results” from the 2021 spring MCAS exams at a primary and secondary education council scheduled for Tuesday. The board will also be asked to vote on a proposal to maintain the MCAS scores required to graduate at their current level for the 2024 and 2025 classes.

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