Hearing Summary: Standardized Testing

On Tuesday, Sept. 12, in the Massachusetts State House, the Joint Education Committee heard testimony on:

–       Senator Mark Rush’s Bill S.308: “An Act strengthening and investing in our educators, students and communities

–        Representative Liz Malia’s Bill H.2860: “An Act to clarifying parental rights in the administration of standardized tests

– Representative Marjorie Decker’s Bill H.2844: “An Act to Place a Moratorium on High Stakes Testing


Citizens for Public Schools supports all above bills because they:

1) Update the foundation budget to increase funding to schools,

2) Place a moratorium on the high-stakes use of state standardized tests,

3) Clarify current law that parents have the right to opt their children out of certain testing requirements,

4) Mandate daily recess of at least 20 minutes for students K through 5th grade,

5) Offer flexibility to English Language Learners that do not fit the one-size-fits-all English immersion program mandated by current law.


In almost four hours of hearings, CPS and our allies in the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance made numerous compelling arguments for the above bills.

There was but one panel in opposition to the bills from the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education. They remarked that the bills are “tampering with the accountability system” of standardized testing, and that these standardized tests “provide central data on school performances” and “equitable economic access and opportunity.”

CPS and MEJA helped organize about a dozen panels ready to counter arguments. Jessica Tang, President of the Boston Teacher’s Union, said the bill’s supporters believe in high standards and accountability, but the current standardized testing system is not working. The standardized testing system relies on punishing schools, teachers, and students that are ‘underperforming.’ This creates unhealthy competition among teachers to have the highest-performing students, induces stress and anxiety in teachers and students to the point where some students in elementary school, as we heard, intentionally hurt themselves to deal with the pressure. It also reduces time and energy devoted to arts and creative forms of learning. Instead of allowing teachers who understand the specific needs of their students and communities to decide how to teach, standardized testing tries to fit Massachusetts’ one million public education students into a one-size-fits-all assessment. Similarly, there is a one-size-fits-all assessment for all English Language Learners, no matter their family’s class or English background.

Jack Schneider, Professor at the College of the Holy Cross, argued that the achievement gap in schools is not an education issue, but an economic issue. It is not about teachers or students who are underperforming, but rather the lack of resources allocated to public schools. Standardized testing takes resources away from public schools by stealing time instead of fostering a more multifaceted way of teaching and assessing students. Students of color, low-income and poor students, students with disabilities and English Language learners are most vulnerable, and therefore most affected, by these practices.

Overall, as Barbara Madeloni, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA), put it, while the current system is not working, Bills S.308, H.2860 and H.2844 would provide a “blueprint for us to think imaginatively about what we can do for our schools” without so many millions of teaching hours being devoted to standardized testing. These bills allow us think about what is possible in our public schools, and offer the room to make those dreams become reality!


Here are some highlights from the many powerful statements made!

“High-stakes exams are among the most effective means of alienating students from science and math. Such tests replace direct experience, observation, and performance with rote learning and drill-and-kill instructional methodologies.” –Jonathan King, Professor of Biology at MIT

“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 photo copied worksheets? Why start school in August? Why wait to do all the fun projects in June?” – Jennifer Debin, Parent of four children in Dover-Sherborn school district and business owner

“National data shows that high school exit tests increase the dropout rate but not do improve outcomes in terms of college attendance or workforce participation. Dropouts have higher rates of incarceration and are more likely to be unemployed and have unstable families. Students with disabilities and English language learners are those who suffer most from exit tests. In light of this evidence, the number of states with such exams has declined from 26 to 13 in the past decade. Massachusetts should join them.” – Monty Neill, Executive Director of FairTest

“Roughly two-thirds of student achievement is explained by out-of-school variables, compared with about a third of achievement that can be explained by in-school variables… For those of you with children, this should make intuitive sense. You know exactly why your child developed an early love of reading for instance, why she always finished her homework, or why she loved math. It’s largely due to you… Differences in scores are – primarily – a product of social and economic inequity.” –Jack Schneider, Assistant Professor of Education at Holy Cross and Director of Research for the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment.

“Indeed, we could save ourselves a large amount of money and time and replace the entire MCAS with “How many bathrooms does your home have” and get roughly the same information about students and districts. And despite the assurances that highlighting these socioeconomic gap

provide Impetus to address the problem, after 25 years, the gaps in Massachusetts remain unchanged. A three-year moratorium allows us to pause and develop something better, but it also provides a deadline forcing us to.” –Andre Green, former teacher, father of a young child, and Vice-Chair of the Somerville Schools Committee

“I am holding you personally accountable for the 11 days of testing that my fifth-grade students endure, for the six weeks that instruction stops as our school becomes a testing warehouse, and for all of the students in this state on IEP’s whose federally protected support services are not being delivered because personnel is being deployed to proctor a test. I am holding you responsible for the 9-year-old student who came to school with hardly any sleep after witnessing his mother administer Narcan to save his father’s life, only to then take a three-hour test and I am holding you responsible for the autistic child whose parents opted him out of the test but the school counseled him back into… I hold you responsible for not passing legislation that allows for a public-school TEACHER to serve on the Board of EDUCATION, yet the chair of this Board, Paul Sagan can contribute $600,000 to a campaign that sought to charterize, segregate, and create a two-tiered system of privilege using high-stake test scores as the ammunition.” – Deb McCarthy, Hull public-school teacher for 22 years, and daughter of public school teacher for fifty years 

It’s now widely accepted that the overuse and misuse of standardized testing is bad for education. A recent PDK poll found “little support for standardized testing in contrast to the deep interest in testing by policy makers over the last two decades.” Yet we continue hoping our test-driven system will do what it has failed to do in 24 years: close achievement gaps and ensure no student is denied access to a good public education because of their zip code. – Lisa Guisbond, Executive Director, Citizens for Public Schools and President, MEJA


Written by Aidan Orly, Community Organizer for Citizens for Public Schools