Less Testing Group to Ed Commissioner: “Does Anti-Bullying Policy Still Stand?”

The Less Testing, More Learning coalition has called on Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester to denounce the bullying or punishing of students who opt out of the MCAS.

The coalition’s call followed a letter from Commissioner Chester to school leaders that struck a significantly different tone than was communicated by him on the same subject in January 2016.

Most notably absent from Chester’s recent letter was anti-bullying language that had been included in 2016 instructions to school leaders on the MCAS, saying that students should not be pressured or punished if they declined to take the test.

In 2016, Chester told superintendents to try to persuade students to take the MCAS, but if they refused, “We ask principals and test proctors to handle refusals with sensitivity. Students should not be pressured to take the test, nor should they be punished for not taking the test.” [The memo is here.]

This week, he sent new instructions for handling opt-outs. He again said principals should try to persuade students to take the test, but did not offer any further guidance.

Less Testing, More Learning supporters have sent a letter to Commissioner Chester criticizing the “callous disregard for the needs of children” in his message.

Kate Cherepowich, a parent in the Dighton-Rehoboth Regional School District, said, “The focus on standardized tests is hurting our children’s education. I am opting my daughter out, and feel that I should not be pressured into having her take the test.”

Lisa Guisbond, executive director of Citizens for Public Schools, said that “state law says the state will administer the test. It does not deny a parent’s right or a student’s right to refuse to take the test.” But, she added, “beyond that, all sides should be able to agree that bullying and threatening students are absolutely unacceptable.”

Citizens for Public Schools is a member of the Less Testing, More Learning coalition.

Guisbond added, “We have heard reports of parents receiving misleading information about penalties to students and schools if a student opts out, and school authorities have said that information came from the state.

“We call on Commissioner Chester to state clearly and publicly what the state regulations say and to reinstate his 2016 instructions against threatening or bullying students.”

Less Testing, More Learning MA is a coalition of parent, community and educator organizations opposed to the overuse and misuse of state standardized testing.