CPS Testimony in Favor of MCAS Moratorium

August 10, 2020

To the Joint Committee on Education:

I am writing on behalf of the Board of Directors of Citizens for Public Schools (CPS) in support of S.2814 – An Act responding to the COVID-19 emergency by instituting a moratorium on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).

These are extraordinarily challenging times. I do not envy you, our elected representatives, for the choices you must make when the educational needs of the Commonwealth are so immense and our resources are so limited.

The COVID-19 crisis has both highlighted and exacerbated educational and other societal disparities. The killing of George Floyd has brought millions of people into the streets and provoked a nationwide movement to address systemic racism and structural inequities. 

Passing this bill now would be an important step toward answering the fervent calls for social and racial justice generated by these two crises. We need an MCAS moratorium now so that all existing resources can be focused on ameliorating educational disparities rather than worsening them, which we believe continuing to administer the MCAS would do. And we need an MCAS moratorium now to end the discriminatory impact of the high-stakes MCAS on students of color, low-income students, English learners and Students with Disabilities. 

There is widespread support for a moratorium. To date, more than 945 constituents have written to their legislators indicating their support, through a CPS-initiated Action Network campaign.

CPS recently released a report called MCAS is the Wrong Answer: Six Ways High-Stakes Testing Has Failed Students and What to Do Now. The report includes a comprehensive review of evidence regarding educational quality and opportunity since passage of the 1993 Education Reform Act. The evidence shows that the MCAS has failed to advance equity and racial justice in our public schools, and instead has been associated with several major disadvantages for historically underserved groups. We concluded that: 

  1. MCAS measures a narrow range of academic achievement, not the full scope of what we want students to know and be able to do. Studies have found that high-stakes standardized tests narrow the curriculum and increase the focus on test-taking skills. This occurs primarily in schools serving low-income, Black, Latinx, and English learner students. Public polling confirms that most people define school quality based on measures other than test scores.
  2. Standardized tests are racially biased against the very students they purport to benefit. The MCAS is an outdated and punitive testing and accountability system that has historical roots in racism and corporatization.
  3. Standardized test results are most closely correlated with parental education and income. As a result, they are more reflective of the wealth of a community than the quality of a school and contribute to re-segregation.
  4. Massachusetts has made few gains on NAEP tests during the last 16 years under MCAS, especially with historically underserved groups. On average, MA students’ advantage over students in other states on 4th and 8th grade reading and math NAEP tests gained less than one point between 2003 and 2019. During that time period, the large test score gap between MA’s underserved students and their peers has shown no significant improvement.
  5. MA public schools are rapidly diversifying. The fastest growing groups include those students who are most likely to be harmed by the state’s high-stakes standardized testing accountability system. MA public school enrollment has grown more economically disadvantaged and racially diverse since 1993, with a larger immigrant population. MCAS has not lessened the wide test score gaps with any of these student groups, with gaps for English Learners having significantly increased.
  6. State expenditures make a difference in educational outcomes, particularly for students who are low-income, of color, and English Learners. Yet, MA has among the widest gaps between lowest and highest spending districts in the nation. In addition, MA is near the bottom of the rankings in its spending on public education as a percentage of total state budget.

In view of these findings, CPS recommends:

  1. Legislation calling for MCAS moratorium and commission for next-generation assessment system
  2. A new assessment and accountability system that embraces a more complete and holistic set of indicators.
  3. State-level assessment limited to diagnostic testing
  4. Assessment of schools & districts based on multiple measures
  5. Fully funded student opportunity act
  6. Funding for Mass Budget to track impact of SOA In bringing MA to at least the national average in total state education spending
  7. Use of money saved from MCAS moratorium to support underserved students

Our recommendations align very closely to those in S.2814. Therefore, we strongly urge you to report this bill out favorably to make sure our resources are focused where they can do the most good for our students and communities. 

Thank you for your consideration. I would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have about this testimony and/or CPS’s report. 

Lisa Guisbond

Executive Director

Citizens for Public Schools