CPS Calls on MA DESE to Remove Misleading Information on MCAS Participation Immediately

With MCAS testing season upon us, Citizens for Public Schools calls on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to immediately delete misinformation on its web site and provide clear, consistent and accurate information to parents who choose to refuse testing for their children and to school officials charged with administering the test.

Specifically, we demand that DESE remove language falsely implying that it is illegal for students and/or their parents to refuse to participate in MCAS testing. On a page titled Participation Requirements for Students in Grades 3-8 and 10, it says: “The 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Law, state law M. G. L. Chapter 69, section 1I, mandates that all students in the tested grades who are educated with Massachusetts public funds participate in MCAS.”

This is not accurate.

The law requires the state to administer the test. There is no mention of students being mandated to take it. Former Commissioner Mitchell Chester often said there is no provision for opting out in Massachusetts law. But when asked by WBUR whether it was illegal to opt out, Chester answered, “I haven’t used the word ‘illegal.’ There is no provision to opt out. Parents have in the past had their students refuse to take the test… That’s always been part of the landscape.” 

 But the new language on the state website–saying students are “mandated” to take the test, does suggest that refusal is illegal.

For more than 25 years, since the introduction of the high-stakes use of MCAS testing, thousands of parents in Massachusetts (and millions across the country) have chosen to opt out or refuse testing for their children.

 Parents opt their children out of the test for varied reasons. Some do it to protest the harm to children’s education inflicted by the state’s laser focus on test scores. Others do it because, for their children, because of disabilities or for other reasons, taking the test is a trauma. It is cruel and unfair to tell parents that their effort to protect their children from harm violates a legal “mandate” when no such law exists.

In the past, DESE guidance for MCAS administration has promoted participation in state testing, but has also explicitly advised school officials to respect the wishes of parents who refuse. For example, a 2017 memo from former Acting Education Commissioner Jeff Wulfson says, “Students should not be forced to take the test against their will.” A 2016 memo said, “We ask principals and test proctors to handle refusals with sensitivity. Students should not be pressured to take the test, nor should they be punished for not taking the test.” (See http://bit.ly/refusethetest.)

There have been no state or federal laws passed since DESE provided that guidance (and Commissioner Chester made his statement) that make it illegal to refuse MCAS testing.

Therefore, we demand that the record be corrected and accurate information be disseminated ASAP so that no student or parent is pressured or threatened for exercising their right to refuse testing.