CPS statement on 2019 MCAS results: MCAS not about real education, equity or justice

The latest MCAS results point to three conclusions:

First, Massachusetts school and district accountability system is not helping students, even by its own limited criteria, test scores. The nation is moving away from standardized test scores as the true measure of learning, but Massachusetts state officials hang on.

Second, the decisions about what it means to “meet expectations” or to qualify for a diploma in this state are driven by politics, not educational wisdom or experience. That’s why the same percentage of students qualify for diplomas as last year, even though the test is different and supposedly has higher standards. Officials feel that if they flunk too many students, the whole edifice will come tumbling down. Under the old tests, the standards were higher for the elementary grades than for high school for the same reason: The high school was required for graduation and parents would revolt if the state refused to give diplomas to too many students.

Third, as always, school and district scores reflect income and race, not school quality. Individual students’ scores vary widely, but when they are combined for a whole school or a district, individual differences wash out and what’s left is that wealthier, white students have a consistent advantage — a finger on the scale that makes their schools and districts look good.

“Let’s remember that the MCAS and other high-stakes tests have little to nothing to do with real education,” said Doug Selwyn, an author, retired SUNY Plattsburgh professor of education and CPS member. “There is no evidence, no research to suggest that they lead to students being better prepared to live their lives well, to be better prepared to deal with the world in ways that bring them meaningful lives, and that leave them more able to be effective at making their lives healthier and happier. High-stakes standardized testing is a farce that came out of the eugenics movement and helps to lock things in as they’ve been, while short-circuiting efforts to address underlying issues that are at the heart of the “gaps”: inequality, racism, sexism.” 

“Since its inception more than 20 years ago, MCAS has failed to make any progress on its primary goal, which was to eliminate achievement gaps by race, income, language, and disability. Why, after more than 20 years of failure, would we keep trying an intervention that has proven to merely reinforce historical beliefs about differences in intelligence by subgroup?” said CPS Executive Director Lisa Guisbond. “Massachusetts is holding onto an old race-based testing policy to sort students. It is no wonder, then, that the state has some of the largest gaps in achievement by race, income, language, and disability in the nation. It is time for Massachusetts to join the multiple other states that are exploring alternative ways to assess school quality and student learning in ways that uplift all students, particularly those who have been historically marginalized, and that place a premium on bringing back the natural joy, passion, and curiosity of learning.”

It’s time to get real about school quality and look at what actually happens inside, not just scores. The Mass. Consortium for Innovative Educational Assessment’s School Quality Framework is one good model. Others could be developed. MCAS is so 1993.