Testimony in Favor of House Bill 1955 before the Joint Committee on Education of the Massachusetts Legislature, May 10, 2011

Lisa Guisbond, Citizens for Public Schools

I urge you to take positive action on House Bill 1955.  I think this bill is an important step toward reversing the narrowing that is part and parcel of any high-stakes testing system but tends to affect low-income students most severely. All students in Massachusetts, not only the affluent, deserve a rich and varied education that develops creativity and critical thinking. This bill’s approach would also give us more precise and useful information about what is needed by schools serving poor children to improve quality and outcomes for those families.

I’m a Brookline parent and a member of the board of directors of Citizens for Public Schools. CPS recently invited the author Richard Rothstein to speak at our annual meeting. Rothstein couldn’t be here today, but he invited me to share some of his relevant work in support of this bill. Going back to when he was the national education correspondent for the New York Times, Rothstein has argued for specific, evidence-based ways to improve assessment and accountability, and his specific proposals mirror some of features of H1955.

For example, in May 2000, Rothstein wrote this in a column titled “Lessons—Accountability by Tests Alone Shortchanges Schools”: “School performance is complex, and assessments should be as well. They should not rely exclusively on something so crude as standardized tests that include mostly multiple choice items. Yet that is often what happens….Overreliance on tests can distort school performance. Test practice can crowd out other important curriculums and minimize creative thinking skills. Error-prone scoring can lead to false failures. And tests better reflect some students’ achievement than others.

To reverse the negative impact of high-stakes test-based accountability, Rothstein proposed a comprehensive system of assessment and accountability in his 2008 book, Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right. He wrote, “Instead of just grading progress in one or two narrow subjects, we should hold schools accountable for the broad outcomes we expect from public education – basic knowledge and skills, critical thinking, an appreciation of the arts, physical and emotional health, and preparation for skilled employment – and then develop the means to measure, and ensure, schools’ success in achieving them. Grading Education describes a new kind of accountability plan for public education. It relies upon both higher-quality testing and professional evaluation.”

HB1955 takes a similar approach. For example, it calls for professional school quality review teams to examine a school’s curriculum, facilities, teacher practice, support services and student work. This evidence, added to test scores, would provide a more complete school picture. As in Rothstein’s model, if these reviews unearth significant problems, schools would be required to take corrective action.  An example of one outcome of such an evaluation, according to Rothstein, is that a school might be “cited for too much testing and not also using evidence from student work portfolios.”

When he was in Boston last month, Rothstein stressed the need to avoid setting up public schools and public school teachers for failure by holding schools alone accountable for closing achievement gaps. Schools can do a lot, but they alone cannot reverse the impact of severe poverty and income inequality.  We want to give schools better tools to do all they can, however, and that’s why I support H1955.

Julie Johnson, Massachusetts Teachers Association

On behalf of the 107,000 members of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, pre-K-through graduate school, I would like to go on record in support of several bills before you today, that would help to alleviate some of the “unintended consequences” of the state’s student assessment system.

While many students across the Commonwealth have risen to the challenge of the MCAS, there are still far too many students for whom failure is not an incentive to continue their education.  For those students who struggle but fail to meet the demands of the state’s rigorous assessment system, whether due to disabilities, language barriers or other factors beyond the student’s or the school’s control, the system often leaves them no choice but to drop-out of school or to settle for a “certificate of attendance” at the end of their twelve-plus years of school.  For most of those students who leave school without a high school diploma, about 10,000 each year, their future is bleak, indeed.  Remediation, “MCAS support” and other well-intentioned programs, are only effective for those students who have the resilience, the motivation, and almost always, strong family support, to continue through adversity.

For these students, we need to find a path to help them to succeed.  A number of bills before you today would provide students that path to success.  These bills would limit the use of MCAS for determining high school graduation for certain students, including students with disabilities, English learners and “students difficult to assess using conventional methods”, expand the appeals process or provide other ways to determine competency in addition to state standardized tests, to allow all students the opportunity to meet the state standards.

S. 258 – sponsored by Senator Steve Tolman – An act relative to high school graduation requirements, this bill would allow special needs students, who fulfilled their IEP’s to be eligible for high school graduation, despite failing to pass the grade ten competency tests.

H. 1944 – sponsored by Rep. Alice Peisch – An act relating to high school graduation requirements for students with learning disabilities.  This bill allows students with disabilities to receive a high school diploma, under certain circumstances, including satisfactory completion of his/her IEP and receiving preliminary acceptance to college or other post-secondary education, despite the failure to pass the MCAS tests.

H. 1946 – also sponsored by Rep. Alice Peisch – An act to promote greater fairness, accountability and public confidence in the MCAS.  In addition to expanding the MCAS appeals process similar to that set out in another bill before you today, H. 1938, this bill would require the collection of information by the department about the assessment system and the appeals process, particularly for special needs students, former English learners and for those students “difficult to access using conventional methods”.  The bill would specifically prohibit the withholding of a high school diploma from special needs students who were not offered required accommodations, and for English learners who were not offered assessments in an appropriate language.  The bill would establish a performance assessment, accommodation and appeals process for students with disabilities, English learners and “difficult to access” students, to enable more students to demonstrate that they have met the state requirements for high school graduation, despite failure to pass the MCAS tests.

H. 1938 – sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Malia – An act to expand access to the MCAS appeals process, would essentially provide a right to appeal for students, requiring notice to parents and students, requiring schools to advocate for students who seek to appeal, and reducing the current barriers to appeal.  Among other things, the bill allows any student who has taken and failed to pass the grade 10 MCAS tests to access the performance appeals process; provides a more reasonable process, along with requiring the school district to assist students who appeal.

Finally, H. 1955 – sponsored by Rep. Carl Sciortino and Senator Jamie Eldridge – An act to improve assessment and accountability to ensure students acquire 21st century skills would modify the use of MCAS by allowing it to be a component of the graduation requirement, but establishing a system that combines both state-developed and locally-developed (state-approved) assessments to determine student competency.  While students would be required to pass courses in English, math, science and history, in order to graduate, limits would be imposed on the use of standardized tests (state or locally developed) to determine whether students had fulfilled the requirements.  The bill also would:  require that practitioners in the particular subjects (i.e., teachers) develop the state curriculum frameworks and tests; require NEASC to accredit all Massachusetts’ schools; provide state assistance to districts on assessment and accountability; limit number of days annually that state standardized tests can be given.

MTA asks for your support of these important bills that would ensure that all students have the opportunity to meet the state’s standards and to graduate from high school.

Prof. Jonathan King, MIT Molecular Biologist

Good morning Madame Chairs and Members of the Joint Committee. My name is Jonathan King and I am a longtime Professor of Molecular Biology at MIT in Cambridge, where I teach biochemistry and carry out biomedical research, as well as directing programs providing professional development for high school biology teachers. These engage hundreds of Massachusetts science teachers. Within the Commonwealth I serve on the Boards of the Massachusetts Academy of Sciences; the Massachusetts Association of Biology Teachers; the Science Advisory Board for UMass Amherst, and Citizens for Public Schools.

Scientists and science teachers understand the importance of an excellent education in the basic sciences for all Massachusetts middle and high school students. In the  “Science for All Americans” and other authoritative reports, our national scientific leadership clearly identified the need to replace rote-learning methods with inquiry-based instruction. Effective science teachers accomplish this by providing their students with authentic experiences in designing and carrying out experiments, visiting and observing the diversity of phenomena of the natural and engineered worlds, using instruments, collecting and interpreting data, and working in teams. Such teaching places scientific method – experiments, data gathering, observation and interpretation – at the center of instruction. Their incorporation into US classrooms after Sputnik –replacing rote learning pedagogy—was the basis for the education of the extraordinarily productive U.S. scientific and technical work force that has led the world for the past half century.

Ignoring the views of the scientific community and science teachers, the State Department of Education instituted a science MCAS test as a high school graduation requirement. Sadly but predictably this has undermined the quality of science education in the Commonwealth. High stakes tests replace direct experience, observation, and performance with retrograde rote learning and drill-and-kill instruction. Pressure on teachers to have their students perform well on standardized tests sharply reduces the classroom role of experimentation, the design and implementation of science projects, field trips, and related encounters with natural processes. In addition high-stakes exams are among the most effective means of alienating students from science.

The Science MCAS tests have not raised the standard for science education; rather they have lowered the quality of the instruction. Though MCAS tests can assess whether students know the names of the parts of the microscope, they cannot determine whether the student can focus the microscope and assimilate the images they observe.  Making the score on a single standardized test the total basis of the graduation requirement makes clear that the Commonwealth doesn’t care about whether students can actually use a microscope, as long as they can name the parts. The current policy devalues authentic science education and undermines our ability to produce the analytical and innovative graduates our society needs. The policy makes a travesty of all that we know about generating individuals scientifically and technologically competent and literate.

The world of the 21st century requires students be able to observe accurately and think critically, and to apply their education in the sciences to pressing social and economic needs. The appropriate assessments for these skills are performance and experience based. They include research projects, lab reports, poster presentations and model building, with limited and judicious use of standardized exams. Such performance-based assessments have a long tradition in vocational education, the arts, and natural sciences.

I urge members of the Joint Committee on Education to:
1) Support H01955, a carefully constructed program of assessing student achievement, that follows the spirit and letter of the 1993 Education Reform Act by limiting the weight of the MCAS scores and adding forms of authentic assessment.
2) Given the fundamental inequities in science education between districts with very different resources, support the bills submitted to provide relief and assistance of disadvantaged students from Senators Creem, Reps Peisch, Cabral, Malia, Peisch, and Smizik.
3) Ensure through the budget process that every Massachusetts middle school and high school has the material and staff resources to provide authentic laboratory instruction and field experience.


Science for all Americans, Project 2061, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington DC 1989.
High Stakes: Testing for Tracking, Promotion and Graduation, (Edited by Jay P. Heubert and Robert M. Hauser), National Research Council (1999)

Louis J. Kruger, Psy.D. NCSP, Associate Professor, School Psychology Program, Northeastern University

The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) and other high school exit exams were implemented for two principal reasons: to reverse the supposed rising tide of mediocrity in our public schools, and to close the achievement gap between socioeconomic and racial groups. Within the last several years, the best available research indicates that these tests accomplish neither of these aims (Grodsky, Warren, & Kalogrides, 2008; Holme, Richards, Cohen, Jimerson, 2010; Lee, 2008). In a recently published 50 page review of high school exit exams, a group of researchers concluded that “exit tests have yielded few, if any, benefits is especially concerning given the costs of these policies to students” (Holme, Richards, Cohen, Jimerson, 2010).

One of these costs is the disproportionate denial of diplomas to students with disabilities, English language learners, and students from low-income urban neighborhoods. A whopping 70% of the 2010 high school seniors who did not earn diplomas because of their MCAS scores had a disability.  In addition, fewer than 10 students with disabilities each year succeed in earning a diploma through the alternate assessment route route. Since the advent of the MCAS graduation requirement, about 2,000 students with disabilities per year have been denied their high school diplomas. In what moral universe, is it justifiable year after year to systematically deny a decent life to so many students with disabilities?

The MCAS graduation requirement is also related to students dropping out of school (Papay, Murnane, & Willett, 2008). Although the overall dropout rate in Massachusetts has been relatively stable during the last decade, this overall rate obscures the effect the MCAS has on high school seniors who have failed the tests. In the span of only six years, the dropout rate for these students has more than doubled. In the 2003-2004 school year, the dropout rate for high school seniors who failed the MCAS was 16%. Last year, the dropout rate for these students reached an all-time high of 36% (Massachusetts Department of Education, 2011).

If high school exit exams, such as MCAS, were pharmaceuticals, the Food and Drug Administration would ban their use. They do not have the intended effects on academic achievement, and they have serious side effects on at-risk students.

I support House Bill No. 1955, and related bills (H01938, S00258, H00140, H00141, H00164, H01944, and H01946) because they are consistent with the best available research, best practices in assessment, and ethical conduct in using assessment instruments. The most important aspect of House Bill No. 1955 is the proposal to use multiple measures to determine a student’s eligibility for a high school diploma. The adoption of this bill will rectify the most harmful flaw of the Education Reform Act of 1993; the denial of a high school diploma because of the results on a single test. Public policy should not be based on intuition or simple nostrums, such as high stakes tests. Public policy must have research on its side, and the research is not on the side of high stakes tests, such as the MCAS. Massachusetts with its illustrious history of public education should be in the vanguard of transforming the use of these tests. Nothing less than the wellbeing of our most vulnerable children hangs in the balance.


Grodsky, E., Warren, J. W., & Kalogrides, D. (2009). State High School Exit Examinations and NAEP Long-Term Trends in Reading and Mathematics, 1971-2004. Educational Policy, 23, 589-614. Retrieved May 5, 2009 from http://epx.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/0895904808320678v1

Holme, J. J., Richards, M., Cohen, R. & Jimerson, J. (2010). Assessing the Effects of High School Exit Exams. Review of Educational Research, 80, 476-526.

Lee, J. (2008). Is Test-Driven External Accountability Effective? Synthesizing the Evidence From Cross-State Causal-Comparative and Correlational Studies. Review of Educational Research, 78, 608-644.

Massachusetts Department of Education (February, 2011). Dropout Rates in Massachusetts Public Schools: 2009-10. Retrieved May 1, 2010 from http://www.doe.mass.edu/infoservices/reports/dropout/

Papay, J. P., Murnane, R. J., & Willett, J. B. (2008). The consequences of high school exit examinations for struggling low-income urban students: Evidence from Massachusetts. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved March 21, 2009 from http://www.doe.mass.edu/research/reports/papay-murnane-willett.doc

Monty Neill, Executive Director, FairTest

My name is Monty Neill. I am Executive Director of FairTest and a member of the Board of Directors of Citizens for Public Schools.

I speak today in favor of  House 1955, though there are other bills worthy of your support.

FairTest and CPS support this bill for two basic reasons. First, the current MCAS tests are not adequate indicators of the learning our students need for them to succeed as citizens, students and workers. Because they are high-stakes, their inadequacies produce harmful consequences to teaching and learning.

Second, House 1955 will create a high-quality, truly comprehensive assessment system, that would evaluate our students’ progress toward a full range of important outcomes, and therefore support, not limit, strong teaching and learning.

A few years ago, Achieve surveyed professors of first year college students on the attributes their students need for success. The professors said their students were lacking in their abilities to read and understand complex material, conduct research, apply knowledge to solve problems, and write well for college work. The MCAS tests do not assess these vital aspects of knowledge, and too often they are not taught as teachers aim to boost MCAS scores, focusing ever more time and attention on test preparation.

This situation will only become worse if the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopts the proposed regulations for teacher evaluation, which will greatly intensify the stakes attached to MCAS tests. That proposal also would force districts to buy or write dozens of new tests, most of which are likely to be as insufficient as is MCAS.

It is time for Massachusetts to enact a truly comprehensive assessment system, which is what the Board of Education initially planned to do under the Education Reform Act, according to testimony presented in the past to this committee by former board chair Martin Kaplan.

House 1955 would construct a system that restores local initiative and creativity, while ensuring state oversight. It would return to teachers the authority to develop strong, engaging curriculum, while providing the means to ensure the quality and effectiveness of their curriculum and instruction. It would release educators from the pressures to overly emphasize the narrow range of knowledge and skills measured by the MCAS tests.

It would prioritize forms of evaluation, primarily performance assessments, that can assess the full range of knowledge and skills required by colleges, skilled employment and effective citizenship. The bill would establish high-quality end-of-course state exams or local assessments shown to be of equal quality. These changes will strengthen, not weaken, expectations for our graduates.

House 1955 would create multiple methods for public evaluation our schools far superior to what the MCAS tests now provide. One tool will be a strengthened use of accreditation, providing a means for periodic, in-depth, independent evaluation of every school’s strengths and weaknesses. The other would be a richer array of evidence of learning assembled by every school for public and state review.

House 1955 would reduce standardized testing, bringing the amount closer to what the state had before the imposition of No Child Left Behind. It would test reading and math each in 3 grades plus the high school end of course testing. This would still be more testing than what other successful nations require.

A final word. The teacher evaluation proposal before BESE would require every teacher to be judged in part by the results of two assessments. Aside from MCAS, districts would have to create new tests or purchase commercial products. This will divert more money into the pockets of test companies and divert resources from efforts to actually improve assessment. Without state financial and programmatic support, including less standardized testing, districts are unlikely to be able to create the classroom-based compilations of evidence H 1955 calls for. But only with such compilations can we really expect to be able to assess the full range of learning outcomes our students need. And only through systems to gather and evaluate that range of evidence can we avoid the narrow teaching to the test that so dis-serves our students and our state.


Achieve, Inc. February 2005. Are High School Graduates Prepared for College and Work? A Study of Recent High School Graduates, College Instructors, and Employers. Peter D. Hart Research Associates/Public Opinion Strategies.

“Large majorities of instructors are dissatisfied with the job public schools are doing in preparing students for college when it comes to writing quality (62%) and their ability to read and comprehend complex materials (70%). Majorities of instructors are dissatisfied with their students’ preparation in a number of other areas, including their ability to think analytically (66%), their work and study habits (65%), their ability to do research (59%), applying what they learn to solve problems (55%), and mathematics (52%).” (p. 8).

FairTest. 2010. “Multiple Measures: A Definition and Examples from the U.S. and Other Nations.” http://fairtest.org/files/MultipleMeasuresSummaryFACTJuly2010.pdf.

Ann B. O’Halloran, Teacher

My name is Ann O’Halloran, retired after 30 years teaching. In 2007, the Commonwealth honored me as the Massachusetts History Teacher of the Year.

Today I speak with the voices of educators who will NEVER have the opportunity to speak here.

Says one – ” I have a student who lived in a terrible situation of abuse and neglect . . . At four he moved in with a relative, but lives with frightening memories.

An angry, sad child, some days he can barely keep his eyes open. During the ELA/ MCAS in March I had to wake him up three times.

There is progress, but it won’t show up on a test. Sometimes the victory is that he picks up his pencil and works.

His struggles in school will continue until he feels safe and cared for.  He is only one of many children with severe problems originating at home. Where are the services these children need?”

And another – “Using MCAS to make high stakes decisions about teachers and students is morally wrong.  In the quest for higher scores, we sacrifice many of the most important, immeasurable, factors that give education its humanity.

Imagine a school where students with learning difficulties are considered “liabilities” rather than embraced for who they are.

Imagine schools  without art, music, libraries or recess.

Imagine students’ creativity and exploration taking a back seat to filling in bubbles.

I would not want my child in a school like that, would you?”

From a mom and teacher –

“My son in grade 4, asked me if I would still love him if he didn’t do well on MCAS.  After hearing this, I decided, as a mom and  teacher, that I would make sure my children and students know this test does NOT affect whether I love them or not.”

From a teacher of special needs – “Teachers may control the security of materials,  testing environment, and tools used for MCAS.  We cannot control the will of each student to try on the test, school attendance prior to the test, student ability to understand the questions being asked, or the student’s home environment.

As teachers we observe students scrawling foul language on open response answer sheets (due to frustration or apathy), or simply creating a pattern with the bubbles. Their anxieties and home environments are of more concern to many than the standardized testing. Shall we now be forced to beg our students to try because our jobs depend upon their scores?”

And my closing thoughts . . .

In all my schools this was clear: supportive, collegial faculties were the best – for kids, families and educators. There was plenty of community support for each of us when needed.

The proposed regulations to use student test scores for evaluation endangers that sense of community, of mutual support, which makes a school thrive.  Teachers do not enter the profession to fight for the biggest bonus. We are not “of” Wall Street.

Threatened is the understanding that all children in a school belong to us all.  In the coming factory-school, everything is in jeopardy.

Remembering John Dewey, we recognize that “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

Paula Parnagian, President, Citizens for Public Schools

Good Morning.  My name is Paula Parnagian and I’m the President of Citizens for Public Schools.  I am also a diversity and inclusion specialist, a former high school math teacher; and a founding Co-Chair of the Global Education Advisory Council for the Board of Education

CPS was organized in 1982 and played an active role in the landmark McDuffy decision that led to the Education Reform Act of 1993.  CPS joined in Boyette v Galvin to safeguard the state’s constitutional protection against using public funds for private and religious schools; aided the Attorney General’s defense of voluntary integration in Comfort v Lynn;  and assisted in Hancock v Driscoll, in hopes of accessing critically needed funds for public education.

The Massachusetts Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education merged with CPS in 2009, thereby creating an even stronger and broader nonprofit organization. CPS has a Western affiliate based in Amherst, the Western Mass. Advocates for Public Schools.

CPS’s mission is to promote, preserve, and protect Massachusetts’ public schools and public education.  Our primary goals include ensuring equal access and educational opportunities for every child; guaranteeing every student a well-rounded public education that meets the needs of the whole child; and implementing multiple forms of assessment.

CPS believes that MCAS reform is urgently needed in order to focus sufficient attention and resources on the schools and districts that most need help in their efforts to improve educational quality and outcomes for every student in the state.

The achievement and opportunity gaps in Massachusetts remain unacceptably large.  Dropout rates, already high before Ed Reform, are rising among urban minority populations, English language learners, and students with disabilities.  These are the same groups that are disproportionally failing MCAS, and, sadly, are also those which Ed Reform was intended to help.  Clearly, the time for MCAS reform is now.

CPS is in support of several reform bills being proposed, including: H. 1955, H. 1933, H. 1944, H. 1946, and S. 258.  We believe that all of these bills will help to address the inadequacies in the current assessment system.  We also believe that they will ultimately help Massachusetts to live up to its promise to its youth and to more fully realize the spirit, vision, and beauty of the Education Reform Act of 1993.

William H. Robinson Jr. , Political Action Chair, on behalf of NAACP New England Area Conference and Juan M. Cofield, President, NEAC of NAACP

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the country.  The New England Area Conference (NEAC) is the governing and coordinating entity for NAACP Branches in the states of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont.  Relative to this testimony, NEAC speaks for all NAACP Branches in Massachusetts.

The NAACP continues its ardent work of championing the cause of equal access and quality education in our democratic society.   The NEAC is seeking support for Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) Bills H01938 and H01955 to continue the improvement process of fine-tuning a “High Stakes Testing” system.

The MCAS Incremental Improvement Process

Since 1993, the MCAS Incremental Improvement Process (MIIP) includes heavy engagement with legislative activity.  Although the MIIP has been and continues to be rigorous, it lacks the coordinated cohesive strategic emphasis needed to make large-scale system changes.  Thus, the incremental change process does not serve our education programs very well.

The NEAC recognizes the tactical advantages of making MCAS refinements that improves the current operations and at the same time making future improvements.  Such coordinated refinements would “bookend” benefits for ethnic subgroups, the underserved, special needs and students of color that fall within the achievement gap.  Dual approvals of Bills H01938 and H01955 will provide opportunities to begin addressing both current and future inequities.

Bill H01938 to Expand the MCAS Appeals Process

This bill would extend access to the MCAS appeals process to all students and requires that students, parents and guardians be notified of the student’s right to appeal and to have an advocate to assist in the appeal process.   Student’s portfolio of class work demonstrating performance and knowledge collection is made available as required appeal data.  This will help current MCAS students.

Bill H01955 to Improve Assessment and Accountability

This bill ensures that our schools are meeting their obligations to properly educate students by the school being accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, and must renew its accreditation every 10 years. The bill also establishes steps to be taken to improve underperforming schools. This will help future MCAS students.

An Additional Note

The NEAC believes “High Stakes Testing” systems are inherently biased and are responsible for the resulting impact in achievement gaps and high dropout rates among ethnic subgroups, the underserved, special needs and students of color.

Approving Bills H01938 and H01955 is in line with the Federal proposed overhaul of ESEA/NCLB reauthorization expected by September 2011.

Ruth Rodriguez, former President, Citizens for Public Schools

Today I want to offer my testimony attached with a human element. You have listened to the research and the academics, so I hope that the human perspective will further show you the high cost of this ill-advised policy.  My name is Ruth Rodriguez-Fay, former President of Citizens for Public Schools.  I served on the Governor’s Readiness Project MCAS & Assessment subcommittee. I was a bilingual teacher for five years in a two-way bilingual school and have worked in schools in Worcester and Boston as a family coordinator.  I was also a team member in a project out of Clark University in Worcester that worked with families of students who failed the MCAS and were in jeopardy of not receiving a high school graduation diploma.

It astonishes me to see this obsession with high-stakes tests by our politicians and some members of the state Board of Education.  What is clear after serving on the Governor’s project is that every indication from reputable scientists is that standardized tests are intended to be used as an assessment tool that can guide the curriculum and help teachers to greater understanding of the skills and abilities of the students, and not as a graduation requirement that punishes students.

In working with families who saw their dreams fade, it was heart-breaking for me to see how many of the families whose children were denied a diploma felt betrayed by the system.  One such mother, almost in tears, told me, “my son wanted to drop out of school because as he told her, “What’s the point of going to school if I’m not going to graduate?”  “Why should I spend the next 2 years wasting my time if I’m not going to get a diploma?”

Before deliberating on these important bills, I humbly suggest to this committee that you consider taking the time to have a conversation with the Honorable Leslie Harris of the Suffolk Juvenile Court.  He is someone who deals with the children that come to his court, and he claims that the majority are school dropouts.  He is someone that has seen first-hand the negative effect that these tests have on our community.  While the Governor goes around the country bragging about how well Massachusetts students are doing on the MCAS, he fails to mention the discrepancy between Black/Latino students and their white peers.  He fails to admit that the huge gap that we’ve seeing since this policy was implemented, is having a lasting negative effect on the neediest community.  This is incomprehensible since so many of our Black and Latino youths are dropping out of school and landing right in the prison system.  It is of little comfort to a family whose child completed all the requirements and played by the rules for 12 years to be told that graduation is not an option because they failed one test.  If we look at our very own Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor who by her own admission did poorly on the SATs. Imagine if Princeton had denied her admission, yet she finished at the top of her class, and look where she is today.  We are losing future scientists, musicians, artists and much more.

I want to close with a quote from the Honorable Leslie Harris, “We spend more money locking up than educating our children.  This country locks up more young people than any country in the world…It is an uphill battle against a mindset focused on the test score bottom line, just one of many fights worth waging for our public school children.”

Professor Dennis Shirley, Lynch School of Education, Boston College

I am delighted to have the opportunity this morning to support House Bill 1955.  This Bill will align Massachusetts with the assessment systems of many high achieving jurisdictions around the world.  I have had the privilege of working with these jurisdictions at many different levels—in particular, Singapore, Canada, and Finland, from which I just returned on Thursday of last week.

While there are some variations across contexts, we find a number of important similarities in regard to education in Singapore, Canada, and Finland.  Education is generously funded and it is difficult to become a teacher–meaning that quality control is assured at the point of entry rather than afterwards when teachers already are interacting with children.  Professional associations play a large and in many ways the determinative role in the school improvement process, establishing curricula in collaboration with departments of education and modifying assessment practices.  Assessment matters, but assessment does not drive the system—rather, the system is driven by an inspiring vision of what schools can be in a fast-paced world of unpredictable demographic and technological change.

Several provisions of House Bill 1955 are especially worthy of support:

  • Standards are reviewed and approved by affiliates of professional associations, anchoring school improvement in the educational profession itself, rather than imposing it from the outside;
  • Performance assessments are given greater emphasis, helping young people to develop the skills they will need to succeed in the workplace or society;
  • The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) is assigned a larger role in accreditation processes, with special attention given to its role safeguarding a broad and rich curriculum to include the sciences, social studies, and the arts, which have been narrowed in recent years as an unfortunate by-product of the new emphasis on literacy and math;
  • Technical assistance is to be provided to teachers in the creation and improvement of classroom-based assessments so that what students learn at the micro-level of the class is reflected in the teachers’ expertise at designing the best possible assessments for their students.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has much to be proud of in regard to its school system as reflected in our first-place ranking on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results.  House Bill 1955 will assure that Massachusetts continues to be on the leading edge of school improvement in the nation.