Critics push bills to ease reliance on standardized tests
BOSTON (AP) — Critics of standardized testing are pushing a handful of bills they say are aimed at reducing the state’s reliance on the exams as graduation requirements.
One bill would let the state continue administering MCAS tests but would create a three-year moratorium on using the test as a graduation requirement, while another would eliminate the use of the MCAS or other state-developed standardized tests as a requirement for a high school diploma.
Another bill would bar schools from denying a diploma to a student who has met all requirements other than passing the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System.
The push comes amid a debate about whether Massachusetts should keep the MCAS test, adopt the PARCC exam or combine the two. PARCC, short for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, was developed as part of the national Common Core standards.
Rep. Marjorie Decker said the tests aren’t serving many families, including lower income and underserved students.
“We continue to bang our heads against the wall. It hurts, yet we keep doing it over and over,” the Cambridge Democrat said.
Decker said her bill would give the state and those involved in the tests — including parents — a chance “to take a pause, a three-year moratorium, in which we continue to give MCAS to students, but we remove the high-stakes, punitive consequences.”
Sen. Barbara L’Italien, D-Andover, said standardized tests haven’t driven the state to higher achievement.
“They’ve driven us to higher test scores, but not to higher achievement.” L’Italien said. “We need to put an end to the madness in terms of the number of tests.”
Massachusetts has been giving PARCC a trial run for the past two years in some communities. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education plans to vote Nov. 17 on whether to adopt PARCC, keep MCAS or possibly combine the two tests.
Gov. Charlie Baker says the state should never go back to pre-MCAS days. Baker credited the curriculum frameworks and testing established by the state’s landmark 1993 Education Reform Act in helping improve Massachusetts’ public education system.
“The last thing I am ever going to support is getting away from the idea that there should be some baseline expectation about what somebody who gets a high school diploma learns here in the commonwealth and that there’s some way to measure how people are doing,” Baker told reporters Monday. “Before we had an annual review process ... like MCAS, we were failing many of our students who were graduating from high school and we should never, ever go back to that.”
Supporters of the bills, however, pointed to President Barack Obama who on Saturday called for capping standardized testing at 2 percent of classroom time.
“Learning is about so much more than just filling in the right bubble,” Obama said in a video released on Facebook. “So we’re going to work with states, school districts, teachers and parents to make sure that we’re not obsessing about testing.”
A study released Tuesday by the Pioneer Institute, a Beacon Hill think tank that has supported the MCAS exams, concludes that revising and updating the test would result in lower costs and more rigorous assessments that would provide better information about student performance.