My Turn: Say no to the the MCAS, this year more than ever

Published: 1/27/2021 3:56:34 PM

There is an increasing push from around the state to suspend giving the MCAS this school year due to the pandemic. While there have been major concerns about the MCAS for years and years, even before the pandemic, now that most districts are holding classes remotely the concerns about the testing are getting louder and more insistent.

Children have lost family members. Their parents have lost jobs or are carrying out jobs that place them at risk of getting COVID. Families are struggling to eat, to keep their housing, to care for loved ones they can’t physically visit. Children have not seen their friends or teachers for close to a year. And, as always, children living in poverty, children of color have experienced the most serious consequences from COVID and the most challenges taking part in remote learning.

There is no assessment expert in the country (not working for Pearson) who would place any value of any kind on the results of this year’s MCAS. Teachers are not prepared to teach remotely, children are overwhelmed with hours of Zooms each day, families are stressed to the max, trying to balance supporting/supervising their children at home, maintaining their jobs and keeping the family and home together. Adding the stress of MCAS to this load is cruel and abusive, and of no educational value. Suspend it, for this year and the next.

The argument that we need MCAS to know where the kids are is a cynical lie. Teachers are assessing every moment of the day, in many different ways and so they know their students and what they can or can’t do. And MCAS results don’t come back until after the school year ends meaning they are worthless in terms of guiding teaching and learning. Politicians and commissioners claim they want decisions to be data driven, but they consistently ignore the data they already have, that these tests, even in healthier times, have not improved the educational experience of our children, have not narrowed the so-called achievement gap (itself a racist theme), and are most certainly not going to be of value this year.

It is still likely that the legislature will insist on administering the MCAS, for political and economic reasons; they have donors and supporters who make big bucks off of these tests and would be concerned once the public figured out that they didn’t really need high stakes testing to carry out an educational program. How can we work to force the legislature to suspend the tests, or protect your children from them? I have four suggestions.

First, make contact with your local school, your district superintendent, and your local school committee. Let them know you want the MCAS suspended for this year (and next). Be aware that the teachers and even school administrators may not respond much because they have been ordered not to say anything, but most of them will agree with you.

Second, contact your legislators and members of the legislative education committee with the same message.

Third, opt out your child(ren) from the tests. There is a legal requirement that schools offer the tests, but no legal requirement that your children take them. You have the right to refuse to allow your children to take the tests with no consequences for your child or your child’s school. Students about to graduate may need to take the tests, but those grades 3-8 do not need to do so to move on to the next grade.

Fourth, contact other parents and families, PTOs and others across the community, to hold forums or information sessions. Look to organizations such as Citizens for Public Schools (https://www.citizensforpublicschools.org/) or Fair Test (fairtest.org) for more information. CPS has model opt out forms on their web site, and it is easy to do.

Send the principal a letter saying you don’t want your child to take the test. For example:

“Dear —, I have asked my child, [name], not to take part in the [name the exam] this year. Please arrange for [him or her] to have a productive educational experience during the testing period.”

To repeat, opting out is legal and there are no consequences for your child. By doing this you are helping to keep your child from increased stress and harm and making a clear statement to the school, district, and state that giving high stakes testing in the midst of a pandemic is cruel, abusive, and wrong.

Doug Selwyn is a resident of Greenfield.


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