IN AN ATTEMPT to reach a compromise on whether to administer the MCAS this year, Education Commissioner Jeff Riley may have pleased no one.
Teachers’ unions and school officials had been pressuring state education officials to scrap the MCAS standardized tests this year. Riley announced Thursday that 11th graders will not have to take the MCAS and will not need to pass it to graduate, if the board of education approves his plan, although students in other grades will.
Massachusetts Teachers Association president Merrie Najimy says Riley’s actions fall short of what the unions wanted — a full cancellation of the tests. “Administering the MCAS tests this year would be nothing but a bureaucratic exercise in compliance that would take time and resources away from teaching and supporting students,” Najimy said.
On the other hand, business groups and school reform advocates have been urging the state to keep the tests to measure student learning loss and determine where to target aid. Keri Rodrigues, founder of Massachusetts Parents United, a foundation-backed parent group, warned that watering down graduation requirements means students’ diplomas “might as well have a ‘pandemic’ stamp on them.” She added: “The decision today is telling these high school juniors that we do not believe in them, that we’ve given up on them meeting the same standards as every other graduating class.”
Until now, Riley showed little interest in skipping this year’s tests, maintaining that the federal government would not let him waive them. But while the federal government requires testing in grades three through eight and once in high school, the state can fulfill that requirement by testing in 10th grade but not 11th. Under Riley’s proposal, the class of 2022 would need to demonstrate competency in a subject to graduate, but would not need to pass the MCAS.
Riley has also made additional changes – letting younger students who are learning remotely take the tests at home, delaying testing until later this spring, shortening the tests, and not using them to label schools underperforming.
Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday said it is “challenging” to figure out where kids are at, given the difficulties associated with schooling this year. Baker said he talked to Riley about logistics and alternative assessment strategies, and the commissioner is taking “a tiered approach” to MCAS.
School superintendents, school committees, and teachers’ unions had asked the state to not require MCAS this year. In a letter, 29 state lawmakers on Thursday asked Baker and Riley to postpone the tests to the fall, which is allowed under federal guidelines.
The lawmakers, led by Democratic Senators Pat Jehlen of Somerville, Jo Comerford of Northampton, and Cindy Friedman of Arlington, wrote that with many students just returning to school in person in April, with weeks left inthe school year, “we believe their limited time should be spent on learning, re-establishing relationships, and recovery from the trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic crisis.”
They note that even if the test is given, many students will opt out or be absent and some students will take them from home, making the results incomparable to prior years. Results will not be available until the fall, they say, and a quicker assessment would be more useful to measure learning loss.