CPS Statement – ‘Commissioner Riley: Remove Incorrect Information about MCAS Refusal’

As Massachusetts schools administer MCAS tests this week, Citizens for Public Schools calls on Jeff Riley, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, to remove the incorrect information on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) web site about a legal requirement that students take the MCAS. 

There is no such requirement.

The site cites General Laws Chapter 69, section 1I. That section says, “[C]omprehensive diagnostic assessment of individual students shall be conducted at least in the fourth, eighth and tenth grades. Said diagnostic assessments shall identify academic achievement levels of all students in order to inform teachers, parents, administrators and the students themselves, as to individual academic performance.”

The DESE web site claims federal law requires students to take the test. That is also false. No such law exists. The law says the test must be given but does not require students to participate. Every year, tens of thousands of students across the nation opt out or refuse to participate in their state’s testing program. 

To illustrate the difference, General Laws Chapter 71, Section 69, says:

“Each teacher at the commencement of the first class of each day in all grades in all public schools shall lead the class in a group recitation of the ‘Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag’.”

Very few people think that means every student is required to participate.

The same applies to taking the test: The test must be given (in three grades). There is no requirement that students participate.

Federal law says the state must test 95 percent of all students and 95 percent of specific subgroups of students. There is no penalty for students or families who refuse testing. And federal authorities have never penalized any state because students opted out. 

Well over 15 percent of New York State students did not take the test last year, continuing a long-standing pattern. The federal government took no action, also continuing a longstanding pattern.

No matter how much Commissioner Riley wants students to take the MCAS, he should not resort to giving out false information about a non-existent requirement for students in grades 3-8. Because of Riley’s misinformation, some local administrators bully and threaten students and parents who exercise their right to refuse  testing. This must stop.

However, in Massachusetts, there is a potential penalty for high school students who don’t take the MCAS: They can be deprived of a diploma. That’s based on a different state law. Chapter 69, Section 1D, says high school students must demonstrate competence in “mathematics, science and technology, history and social science, foreign languages, and English.”

Massachusetts is one of only eight states that require students to pass a standardized test to get their diplomas this year. Citizens for Public Schools supports the Thrive Act (S.246/H.495), which includes a section that gives districts the ability to determine how students demonstrate their mastery of the state subject standards.

For more on opting out, see CPS’s fact sheet.