Dear Senators and Representatives,

In light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and its impact on our schools and students, we, the undersigned groups representing parents, educators, students and advocates for education justice, call on Massachusetts officials to seek and obtain a testing waiver from the U.S. Department of Education and cancel this year’s MCAS tests.  

We agree with business groups and others who oppose using MCAS results for high-stakes and accountability purposes, but we are absolutely convinced that MCAS testing itself should be suspended.  Standardized tests have never been an equitable measure of student learning, but in a time of pandemic cannot possibly measure student learning with any validity.  Testing will only mean that all students will lose precious learning time, while, disproportionally, Black, Latinx, low-income, English learners and special education students will fall even further behind.

It appears that at least five states have filed or are filing formal ESSA waiver requests with the federal government: Georgia, Maine, Michigan, Montana, New York.

Although Commissioner Riley and others maintain that MCAS testing this year is essential to diagnose students’ progress during the pandemic, this is highly dubious:

  • Each student in grades 3 through 8 will be taking only a portion of the test in each subject. Therefore, the results for any one child will not be comparable to their previous scores or the scores of other children. 
  • For an academic test to be valid, a student must have had a reasonable opportunity to learn the material on the test. Given the school closures during the pandemic, the inadequacy and inconsistencies of hybrid learning, and disparate access to Internet and computers at home, not all students will have had a reasonable opportunity to learn the content on the tests. 
  • Contrary to the claims of those who advocate for testing this year, the tests will not collect valuable information that teachers can use to help students, as the results obtained will not be available until their students have moved on.
  • Moreover, teachers assess for gaps in student learning at the start of the school year and every day, with formal and informal measures. This might be more difficult during the pandemic, but MCAS results will tell them little if anything they don’t already know.

Even before the pandemic, educators and testing experts like Daniel Koretz, Lorrie Shepard and many others have shared evidence that MCAS and other similar test-based accountability systems do not promote a high-quality education.

On the contrary, they tend to narrow the curriculum and take up time that could be used for engaging, project-based learning that promotes critical thinking. During a pandemic, it makes even less sense to devote time and resources to “pretending to make schools better,” as Professor Koretz put it.

Fortunately, there is excellent work being done by the MA Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment (MCIEA) and others to develop innovative alternative assessments that are much better suited to promoting and measuring innovative approaches to teaching and learning than standardized tests. These assessments are flexible and can be adapted for remote or hybrid learning.

We applaud DESE’s plan to allow high school seniors who have fulfilled all local graduation requirements but have not passed the ELA or math MCAS exams to graduate based on related coursework. We think this should be extended to this year’s 10th and 11th graders.

Let teachers and students focus on staying healthy and problem-solving to sustain our education system and not have to worry about test prep.  Test-related funding that can be re-allocated, that includes the annual $30 million for the MCAS testing provider, should be spent on more urgent relief for schools and vulnerable students at this critical time.

Lisa Guisbond, Executive Director, Citizens for Public Schools (CPS)

Beth Kontos, President, American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts (AFT-MA)

Dr. Kimberly N. Parker, President, Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts (BEAM)

Ruby Reyes, Director, Boston Education Justice Alliance (BEJA)

Rev. Willie Bodrick, II, Chair, Boston Network for Black Student Achievement (BNBSA)

Jessica Tang, President, Boston Teachers Union (BTU)

Kathleen Boundy, Co-Director, Center for Law and Education (CLE)

Blakely Bundy and Denisha Jones, Co-Directors, Defending the Early Years (DEY)

Doug Selwyn and Pixie Holbrook, Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution (FCCPR)

Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director, Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR)

Vatsady Sivongxay, Executive Director, Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance (MEJA)

Merrie Najimy, President, Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA)

Roger Rice, Executive Director, Multicultural Education, Training & Advocacy, Inc. (META)

Ricardo Rosa, Co-Chair, New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools (NBCSOS)

Juan Cofield, President, NAACP, New England Area Conference (NEAC)

Gwen Volmar, Coordinating Committee, Our Revolution Cambridge

Harneen Chernow and Mary Battenfeld, Quality Education for Every Student (QUEST)

Cambridge Educators of Color Coalition Leadership Team

Jasper Coughlin, Student representative to the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE)*

Mary Ann Stewart, Parent representative to the Massachusetts BESE*

  • Affiliations provided for identification purposes only. The individuals are speaking for themselves on this issue.

February 17, 2021