CPS Calls for Moratorium on High-Stakes Testing, State Grants to Develop Better Alternatives

Calling for a moratorium on the high-stakes uses of standardized testing in our public schools, Citizens for Public Schools members and allies testified today at a State House hearing in support of bills that would also require development of alternative assessments and other crucial reforms to improve assessments.

Educators, parents, a student and others detailed the increasingly harmful consequences of our overuse and misuse of standardized testing, and the urgent need to pause the current testing regime to develop alternative approaches to educational assessment and accountability to improve our children’s education. All the speakers emphasized that the current system has failed to reduce disparities based on race, income, disability and language.

CPS supports five bills considered at today’s hearing (see below). Collectively, they would impose a three-year moratorium on the high-stakes uses of standardized test results, establish a grant program to develop alternatives to high-stakes standardized testing, inform parents about their rights to opt out, allow local districts to determine graduation requirements, and make other improvements.

CPS organized two panels of speakers, including the following:

Jack Schneider, Assistant Professor of Education at University of Massachusetts Lowell, said, “Standardized tests are good at measuring family income, race and parental education but do not measure the really important things good schools do. He said alternative models like [the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment] MCIEA can inform positive changes to the existing accountability system.”

Annabelle Schneider described what it feels like when MCAS is overemphasized.

Schneider’s daughter Annabelle also spoke about what it feels like when so much time and emphasis is put on the MCAS, making it seem much more important than it actually is.

Lisa Guisbond, CPS Executive Director, said, “Decades of chasing higher test scores have not addressed basic issues of inequality and racial injustice, inside and outside our classrooms. That’s why high stakes testing policies like high school exit exams are an endangered species. Massachusetts is one of just 11 states clinging to this outmoded policy.”

Deborah McCarthy, a Hull teacher and President of the Hull Teachers Association, said, “You have before you the opportunity to use your power and privilege to make assessments about our students, to make assessments about enhancing ALL school communities, and to make assessments about individual students thriving and maximizing their potential. The research is irrefutable. Our system is broken, and it has created a two-tiered system of educational privilege. It is time to use your power and privilege to fix this ‘Testing Charade.’”

Ryan T. Debin, a parent from Sherborn and CEO of Momentum Enterprises, represented the Association of Business Leaders for Education (ABLE). Debin presented an excerpt from their statement on high-stakes testing: “…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.”

Left to right, Ryan Debin, Lisa Guisbond, Deborah McCarthy and Annabelle Schneider testified before the Joint Education Committee Monday, June 17.

Andre Green, Executive Director of FairTest and a member of the Somerville School Committee, said, “Whatever role standardized tests have played in illustrating the systemic inequities in our education system, they have done nothing to address them.” He continued, “This is why there’s a bipartisan consensus to reduce the punitive stakes of standardized testing.”

Monty Neill, a CPS Board Member and former Executive Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing,said, “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.”

Doug Selwyn, a former K-12 teacher and professor of education, said, “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.”

Carol Savage, a Winchester parent, MBA, and CPS Board member, reflected on the impact MCAS tests had on her children’s school, saying, “Looking back on it, our elementary school environment gradually went from one alive with collaboration, innovation and teacher creativity, to becoming more focused on prepping for fill in the bubble tests. We stressed about keeping our kids and our school’s MCAS scores high…But I realize now that not only was it the wrong message to send our children, but what it was measuring was really our demographics and our fluency in the English language.” Savage added “one size fits all“ high stakes tests are unfair, penalizing students with language or learning differences and disadvantaged students, leaving their “districts in a constant state of disruption.”  She added that Winchester’s participation in MCIEA is “bringing excitement back” to learning and urged the committee to pause high stakes testing and improve assessments “so all students receive the best educational experience.”

Read more about CPS’s priority education legislation here.

Read the full testimony from the CPS-invited panelists here.