CPS Assessment Reform Bill Testimony

This document includes written testimony in favor of one or more of these bills — H431, S328, H519, S254 and S296 — from the following people:

  1. Lisa Guisbond, Executive Director of Citizens for Public Schools, on the need for a moratorium on high-stakes testing.
  2. Monty Neill, CPS Board Member and former Executive Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), on the need to overhaul Massachusetts assessment and accountability systems.
  3. Doug Selwyn, former K-12 teacher and professor of education, on concerns and harms of high-stakes testing.
  4. Ryan Debin, Association of Business Leaders for Education, on why the status quo is not working and why business leaders are calling for change.
  5. Amy Butterworth, co-founder of ResCo Companies, for a moratorium on high-stakes testing and a grant program to develop alternative assessments.
  6. Jennifer Debin, Sherborn parent and former member of the Sherborn School Committee,for a moratorium on high-stakes testing.

Lisa Guisbond, Executive Director, Citizens for Public Schools

My name is Lisa Guisbond. I am executive director of Citizens for Public Schools. I am here to testify in favor of five bills: H431, S328, H519, S254, and S296.

Collectively, they would help Massachusetts move toward better educational assessments. They would help us reverse the damaging consequences of more than two decades of policies promoting the overuse and misuse of standardized tests.

In my work with CPS and as a public school parent, I have spoken with many educators, parents and students about the negative impact of high-stakes testing. I’ve seen the impact on my own children. I’ve also visited schools using better assessments that have reaped the benefits in terms of closed achievement gaps, higher graduation rates, higher college going rates and higher college persistence rates.

Massachusetts test results continue to show large score gaps linked to race, income, disability and language. This confirms that decades of chasing higher test scores have not addressed basic issues of inequality and racial injustice, inside and outside our classrooms.

That’s why exit exams are an endangered species. Massachusetts is one of just 11 states clinging to this outmoded policy. Washington is the most recent state to abandon its exit exam.

Washington legislators were influenced by testimony from civil rights leaders like Rita Green, Education Chair for the Washington NAACP. Rita enumerated the flaws, failures and limitations of exit exams. Then she talked about her daughter:

Brittany never passed the [WA math test], because she missed a passing score by 6 points. In 2009 she graduated from High School. In 2013, Brittany graduated from Lincoln University with a BS in Criminal Justice and a Law Certificate. She worked one year for City Year at a school in Baton Rouge, LA. In 2014, she went back to school and graduated in 2016 with a Master’s Degree in Justice and Security Administration. Brittany plans to go back to school to get a PHD in 2018. This is a student who would not have graduated under the current WA State Graduation requirements.

Test defenders say the exams “give value” to a diploma, but research shows the opposite is true. For example, studies show the tests do not improve employment prospects or college readiness and are linked to higher dropout rates. These impacts fall disproportionately on students with disabilities, English language learners and students of color.

Some say that our tests are so exceptional that we are immune from the flaws and harms of high-stakes testing. That is demonstrably false. In fact, in his book The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better, Harvard Prof. Daniel Koretz includes many Massachusetts examples.

H431 would not ban testing, but place a moratorium on high-stakes use of exams, such as the high school exit exam. It would establish district task forces to pilot alternatives. For example, the bill could pave the way for schools to use projects and portfolios that measure deeper learning.

It’s time to stop doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Time for a new direction.


Monty Neill, CPS Board Member and former Executive Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest)

Contact information: montyneill@gmail.com or 617-335-2115.

My name is Monty Neill. I live in Jamaica Plain, and I am a member of Citizens for Public Schools and the Boston Educational Justice Alliance.

I am here to testify on behalf of S.328, H.431, S.254, and H.519. The Commonwealth needs a very different set of tools for determining student competence and evaluating school quality. It needs a very different approach toward accountability, one rooted in adequate funding and true support, rather than the current test-and-punish approach. Therefore, the state should end the MCAS-based competency determination, enact a three-year moratorium on high-stakes uses of MCAS for schools and districts, and support districts in designing new systems. Because of the damage MCAS inflicts, parents deserve the right to opt their children out of standardized testing.

Currently, New Hampshire is replacing standardized tests with teacher-made, localized performance assessments. These are reliable and valid, completely feasible, widely praised by educators and students, and meet federal requirements. New Hampshire won approval from the US Department of Education under No Child Left Behind. The current Every Student Succeeds Act allows even more latitude than was given our neighboring state. http://www.fairtest.org/assessment-matters-constructing-model-state-system

The New York Performance Standards Consortium of public high schools has a waiver from the state allowing students to graduate by performance-based assessment tasks instead of the five standardized tests other students must pass. This system is significantly more effective than the test-based system. There are nearly as many high school students in the New York City consortium schools are there are in Boston Public Schools. City Consortium students mirror the city’s student demographics. But the Consortium graduates students at a far greater rate, most notably students with disabilities and English language learners; of their graduates, they send a significantly greater percentage to college; and of those who enroll in college, their persistence rate equals or exceeds the national average for all students, and far exceeds the rates for students with comparable demographics. Consortium leaders say that the waiver from the state test requirements was critical to their ability to implement high-quality performance assessments and achieve such real-world success. http://www.performanceassessment.org/research; see “Redefining Assessment: Data Report.”

You will hear from the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Educational Assessment. The districts in it are designing new assessments that are comparable to New Hampshire and the New York Consortium. They are also trying out a comprehensive, rich and robust set of indicators, rooted in what the people say they value and need to know about our schools. This data can inform the public and provide a strong evidentiary base for supportive actions to strengthen our schools.

Evidence, reason and caring all say, we need to overhaul Massachusetts assessment and accountability systems to truly serve the students, their communities, and the Commonwealth.


Doug Selwyn, former K-12 teacher and professor of education

Contact information: 38 Forest Avenue, Greenfield, MA 01301, 206-679-0189 (cell), dougselwyn@aol.com

Thank you for the opportunity to testify about high-stakes testing today and allowing me the opportunity to argue for a moratorium on testing. I was a teacher in the K-12 system for fourteen years and then a professor in teacher education programs for seventeen years, and I’ve been in hundreds of classrooms over the years in addition to my own.

I have many concerns about the high-stakes testing policy and I will highlight a few:

  1. High-stakes standardized tests are harmful to many children who come away thinking they are failures because they don’t learn and/or process and/or demonstrate what they know through the format of the tests. It ignores and/or fails students who learn differently, who have skills that don’t match the format/structure of the tests, who have special needs, who do not test well, who are learning in a second or third language, or who are unfamiliar with the cultural references.
  • Scores on the tests are linked to zip codes. On average, children from wealthier neighborhoods and school districts score higher on the tests. The tests are reflecting wealth and privilege, not teaching and learning. Arizona State Professor Emeritus David Berliner estimates that out-of-school factors account for as much as 60% of what happens in schools.
  • The tests take away local control: More and more decision making is done by those who don’t know the children, the communities, or the schools. Those who know the children best have less to say about how to best support them as learners. This takes away their ability to fully respond to their children, as more and more decisions are primarily based on avoiding being punished for having children score poorly on the tests.
  • There is no evidence that the tests lead to children receiving a better education. NONE. The government keeps insisting that we need data-based decision making, but ignores its own data that show the testing policy is a failure.
  • The tests are culturally and racially biased; they are an outgrowth of the eugenics movement, which claimed that one race was better than all the others and created instruments to prove it.
  • This testing policy is incredibly expensive, taking money away from schools that desperately need more funds. And since the legislature is underfunding Massachusetts schools by nearly one and a half billion dollars each year, schools are falling farther and farther behind as expenses continue to rise. Schools in poor areas fall even farther behind.
  • The curriculum is being narrowed to focus on test preparation, which means that our children are becoming less well educated. They get less social studies, less hands-on science, less art, less of anything that is not tested, which leaves them less prepared than they were before the curriculum was narrowed in favor of test preparation.
  • When the curriculum is narrowed it also means that students are getting less of what actually excites and engages them in their education. Fewer electives, fewer arts, fewer hands-on experiences, fewer field trips. The more drilling on what will be on the test, the less learning, the less excitement, the less of what helps to produce young people who value learning, and it is more likely that our more vulnerable students will drop out of school, or finish as disengaged, disaffected students who gain little from their education.
  • We are losing many of our best, most caring teachers (and potential teachers) who have no interest in being part of a system that has reduced our children to data points. It’s not why they came into teaching or are considering teaching as a career. There are still wonderful teachers out there, but I know many who have left so as not to participate in doing harm to their students.
  1.  The most significant factor in the health and well-being of our children (and their performance in school) is increasing inequality in our country, and there is nothing being done to address that. Research is clear that the greater the inequality, the less healthy the population, with the most severe consequences experienced by the most vulnerable.
  1. The tests are a simplistic response to a complex problem. Raising scores sounds good but does nothing to help children become better educated, healthier, and more able to live well in the world. That would take fundamental changes; reducing inequality, making sure children are fed and clothed and housed, and are coming to school ready and able to learn. A real solution is complex and involves actually dealing with real issues rather than pretending to do something through this testing obsession.
  1. How many of you are parents of more than one child, or grew up in a family with more than one child in it? How many of you would say that your children (or siblings) were all alike? Is there any test, any assessment, any activity that would fully appreciate all of the children in your household, that would accurately assess who you all are? There is no such thing as a standardized child, so there can be no such thing as a standardized test, as late educational psychologist Gerald Bracey used to say.

A moratorium on these harmful tests would stop the harm they bring to many of our students and the state could bring together people to develop assessment policies that would serve the teaching and learning going on in our schools across the state.

Thank you.


Ryan Debin, Association of Business Leaders for Education

Contact information: 857-2727509, cell

Hello, I am Ryan Debin from Sherborn, MA. I own multiple businesses that employ over 150 people in Massachusetts and New England. I am a youth soccer and baseball coach and serve on the boards of Horizons for Homeless Children and Hope & Comfort. As a father, my own 4 sons in the Dover-Sherborn school district opt out of the MCAS tests. As an employer, I see an urgent need for a moratorium on high-stakes state testing and to create an alternative assessment model.

I am speaking to you today as an originating member the Association of Business Leaders for Education in support of bills H431, S328, and H519. The status quo of state testing is not working and we business leaders are asking for a change. I will now share with you our statement:

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts relies on a high-quality public education system to prepare students for college, careers, citizenship and lifelong learning, and strengthen our social fabric and economic well-being.

As Massachusetts business people and employers, we need employees who are literate and numerate, but we also need people with a range of other essential skills and qualities, including:

  • The curiosity to want to learn about our businesses and how to help them thrive and improve.
  • The ability to think critically in order to sort out fact from fiction and analyze complex materials and data sets.
  • The creativity and imagination to develop innovative solutions to the problems we face.
  • The ability to take initiative and not wait to be told what to do.
  • Good interpersonal and communications skills, including multicultural competency, so they can collaborate effectively.
  • As business leaders and citizens, we have an interest in supporting a public education system with the resources and capacity to foster these skills.

However, for more than 25 years, our public school teachers and students have spent large amounts of time and energy preparing for high-stakes standardized tests. There is mounting evidence that the state accountability system’s overreliance on test scores to measure student achievement and judge school quality has undermined efforts to provide a broad range of learning experiences.

It has blocked the promotion of students’ innovation, creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and subject-matter knowledge, skills that are essential for students to thrive in an increasingly global and constantly shifting economy.

Worse, there is evidence that the focus on preparing students for narrow standardized tests is undermining the very skills and qualities we want and need our employees to have.

The evidence shows that the over-emphasis on standardized testing has caused damage in too many schools, including:

  • Narrowing the curriculum to just the tested subjects, teaching to the test, reducing the joy and love of learning.
  • Pushing students out of school, driving excellent teachers out of the profession, and undermining school climate.
  • Causing negative effects for students from all backgrounds, and disproportionately for low-income students, English language learners, children of color, and those with disabilities.
  • We believe the culture and structure of the systems in which students learn must change in order to foster engaging school experiences that promote joy in learning, depth of thought and breadth of knowledge for students.

For all of the above reasons, we business leaders call on the governor, state legislature and state education boards and administrators to reexamine public school accountability systems in this state, and to develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment which does not require extensive standardized testing, more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning, and is used to support students and improve schools.

Thank you.


Amy Butterworth, co-founder of ResCo Companies

Contact information: amy.butterworth@SothebysRealty.com, 585.820.8447 | www.rescohomes.com, 556 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02118

Good afternoon. My name is Amy Butterworth. I am the co-founder of ResCo Companies, we work with buyers, sellers and investors of real estate in and around the Greater Boston area.

I have long believed in the value of community – in fact, our company name stands for The Residential Collaborative. I am committed to various community efforts and have always had a passion for leading work to empower inner city youth, with a particular focus on girls. I am currently on the Board of Directors for Girls Inc. of Lynn and was honored as a two-time recipient of the TEAM Big Sister of the Year award. I was also the co-chair of the P.L.A.Y. Network at Horizons for Homeless Children, and piloted the Girls Leadership Corps for Boston Centers for Youth and Families. I also developed program curriculum for the High School Mentoring Academy as their Program Coordinator for Big Sister of Greater Boston.

My work over the years has shown me that children want to succeed, they want to do well and they want to be acknowledged. Isn’t their value so much greater than high-stakes test results? Let’s show them that they are dynamic and creative and honor their variety of skills and interests. Let’s help foster that unique growth by halting the use of standardized tests to make important decisions.

I fully support Bill H431. In addition we need to establish a grant program for alternative assessment – therefore I am also in support of Bill S328. Let’s move forward into the future and help expand the minds of children – let’s show them that everything is possible. 


Jennifer Debin, Sherborn parent and former member of the Sherborn School Committee

Contact information: jenniferdebin@yahool.com

I am testifying in support of Bills H431, S328, and H519. My name is Jennifer Debin, I’m from Sherborn. My four sons attend the Dover-Sherborn regional school district in grades 7, 6, 4 and 2. I am a former member of the Sherborn School Committee and a business owner.

There are many reasons to love Massachusetts public schools; the reasons are as varied as the students our schools serve. But the high-stakes state standardized testing system is not one of them. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It is as though the state’s obsession with the rank-and-punish testing system violates the basic concept of “First, do no harm.”

In the name of state testing, we are blatantly ignoring research around how students learn, child development, student health and wellness, and the purpose of play. In our own district, much of what happens can be quickly traced back to subtle, or sometimes not so subtle, test prep. Why is lunch rushed? Why is recess so limited? Why the push to read in Kindergarten? Why the sudden “investment” in Chromebooks? Why all the photocopied worksheets? Why start school in August? Why wait to do all the fun projects in June? And on and on.

Closer to test time it becomes even more obvious. These tests are not just a snapshot or “taking the temperature” anymore. They are the driving force of much of what schools have been doing. The tests were never meant for this purpose and in fact the tests are doing harm to the children. Kids, like my four boys, come to school with a natural curiosity about their surroundings, with initiative and energy that are valued in the adult world, yet our current testing system sends a very clear message that there is just one right way to do things, that being compliant is the best way to be, pitting school against school, classroom against classroom, narrowing curriculum, and even lowering standards to teach to the test.

My own children opt out of the MCAS, but that is not enough. A moratorium on high-stakes testing would allow all of us to work together to redefine the purpose and outcome of public education, to make sure we are creating opportunities for every individual student and to begin counting what really counts. Our state is a leader in public education. What do we want to be known for? What example can we set? All eyes are on us. As renowned educator Yong Zhao has said, “Children do not fit in the future world, they create the future world.”

Thank you.