My Turn: No more MCAS, ever

  • PAUL JABLON

Published: 1/29/2021 4:15:52 PM

Even before COVID-19, standardized testing in our schools has been a failure, yet the state still reported that it will give a limited set of MCAS exams this year. Not only should the public demand that not a single MCAS exam be given to students this year, but that we have a multi-year moratorium on standardized MCAS testing altogether.

Every parent, teacher, principal, and superintendent I’ve spoken to agreed that having students who’ve been learning virtually from home for the past year be mandated to take the standardized MCAS exams that rate them against their peers is a useless, costly and unkind idea. Having any students take these standardized exams this year would be a demeaning and anxiety producing experience, but would be even more devastating for those students from lower income families that have not been able to provide additional assistance in learning at home.

However, this waste of funds on standardized testing is a much bigger issue than just using MCAS during this pandemic. All of the research, cited below, studying the effect of utilizing standardized testing by states over the past decades, using the data from the tests themselves, has demonstrated that it’s had no effect upon student learning. In some cases it’s lowered achievement, and in most cases the test preparation and implementation has taken away countless hours of classroom learning time.

Scores on these standardized tests correlate to income levels and years of schooling of the parents of the children taking them. What standardized tests are sure to do is demoralize low-income students and the teachers who work so hard with them on a daily basis. Economist Helen F. Ladd and educational sociologists Edward H. Haertel and Audrey Amrein Beardsley have done long-term studies that have demonstrated that teachers account for only about 10% of the variation in students’ test scores, which is far overshadowed by their home and other out-of-school factors.’s Likewise, the Gates and RAND study of evaluating teachers by using student test scores has demonstrated that it’ has failed miserably where implemented.

Yet the political appointees leading our state education agencies continue to inflict this chaos and testing on peoples’ children, seemingly without a guilty conscience. This standardized test movement, led by corporate leaders, not experienced educators, operates schools and children using a business strategy that uses data to motivate managers. Schools, once seen as places where students acquire a love of learning, civic engagement, creativity, and appropriate social interaction, have been reimagined as incubators for the future of commerce and profit. There is money to be made peddling tests, software, hardware, analysis of data, and consulting services.

Many talented and dedicated teachers decide they can no longer remain in their beloved profession. The oppressive standards and testing system steals months from classroom instruction, mangles the goals of education including critical thinking, love of learning, and character and citizenship skills. It’s virtually impossible for them to teach with creativity, passion, and autonomy. This has created seasoned teacher and principal shortages and subsequent drops in the number of applicants to teacher preparation programs.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), is the only national measure of student achievement, and has been administered yearly since the late 1960s. The NAEP has shown that the greatest improvement in student test scores occurred before the enactment of No Child Left Behind in 2002 when teachers and schools were utilizing their creativity and passion to engage previously disengaged students. Since then, NAEP scores have been flat and gaps between students of color and white students have remained large. Standardized testing despite the billions spent has failed.

Even staunch supporters of standardized testing, such as Jay Greene and Michael McShane at the University of Arkansas, have come to realize that test scores have little or no relationship to later life success. The conservative American Enterprise Institute released a study where they bemoaned the results demonstrating that standardized test scores were poor measures of long term student success and the highest rated teachers were less likely to improve test scores.

Yet, testing can be useful when it’s built into everyday instruction. Testing is not helpful when it is merely a way to rank students, preparing them to be cogs in a corporate machine labeling them as winners, for those with privilege, or losers, for those with fewer advantages. Gail Robinson’s work on how school consortiums using “performance assessments” and other such tools have student’s achievement, attendance, and college persistence rates outdistance those using standardized tests.

It is time to stop this disruption of public schools and waste of our taxes. It is time to stop MCAS and allow our educators to create useful formative assessments that inform their teaching. School committees, parents, and all taxpayers need to contact our state and national legislators and demand that they halt funding for standardized testing. We must band together; go to FairTest.org, and organize locally.

Paul Jablon, Ph.D., a Greenfield resident, taught public school for two decades where his students endured these tests, and then worked for another two decades as a professor of education at universities working collaboratively with teachers, principals and superintendents across the country to improve schools despite the negative effects of the tests. And maybe most importantly, he is a parent of two children who had their own anxiety and other issues with the MCAS.


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