Schools

Here’s how Boston.com readers feel about this year’s MCAS exams

“Could we please just let it go and start again fresh next year?”

A student raises her hand in her virtual classroom at the Roxbury YMCA. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Students in Massachusetts are still expected to take the MCAS exams after a school year of remote and hybrid learning, a decision that has Boston.com readers divided. 

Last year, the standardized tests were canceled for all students, but have been reinstated this year. Elementary students were scheduled to take the test in April, but the test was moved to accommodate school reopenings earlier this month. Typically, high school students are required to pass several of the tests in high school, but because of the pandemic, that requirement has been lifted.

Those opposed to administering the test this year say the high-stakes nature of the test is incompatible with the stress the pandemic has already had on students and teachers. Lisa Guisbond, executive director of Citizens for Public Schools, Boston.com, “We’ve been advocating against the high-stakes use of the MCAS and for developing better alternatives for a time. This is especially acute this year because of the disruptions caused by the pandemic.”

The exam, which has been widely criticized by educators and advocacy groups in recent weeks, is also a point of contention among our readers. We asked Boston.com readers, many of them parents and educators, if they felt the exam should be canceled. While 56% said it was time to eliminate the test altogether, 36% said that the exam should continue and 8% said they’d like to see it postponed for now but continued post-pandemic. 

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“In a normal year the kids find taking the MCAS to be stressful, asking them to take it this year is just cruel,” said one reader. “Could we please just let it go and start again fresh next year?”

Carlos of Hyde Park, a former student and paraprofessional for Boston Public Schools, said it would be particularly burdensome at schools with high risk populations of students. 

“It’s going to activate a level of stress ten times more than it would be if we had a full school year. I’ve always thought it was a joke even when I was a student and took it myself,” he said.

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Many of the readers who opposed the test said they felt money and time would be better spent making sure students end the year strong. 

“Instead of using the last two weeks to continue the curriculum, teachers have been teaching the test during class time to prep the students for MCAS,” said James of Millis. “Several instructional hours spent taking and reviewing practice exams! Why not try to spend that time covering the material they’ve fallen behind on?”

Educators have made similar points. The Massachusetts Teachers Association opposes the tests and released a statement that states, “This year, testing is diverting precious time and energy needed for teaching and supporting students just to tell us what we already know: The pandemic has negatively impacted them, especially low-income students of color. Administering the MCAS is a logistical nightmare.”

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Some parents are simply opting out. One reader, who opted their fourth grader out of the test, said, “I am fundamentally against standardized testing, but especially during a pandemic. We refuse to participate.”

However, some think this year’s MCAS is a unique opportunity to gauge the impacts of remote schooling on students’ academic performance and hold teachers accountable for potential learning gaps. 

“It is crucial after this experiment in education to gauge how the kids are doing.  I honestly don’t understand the opposition,” said Kris of Worcester. 

Julie, a parent from Boston, said she’s eager to see the results of this year’s test. Teachers shouldn’t be fired over poor student performance on the test, she argued, but the results “may hold the school boards and teachers union accountable for material deterioration.”

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“The teachers union has argued that they could do their job remotely, even against pushback from parents who argued that it was hurting the quality of education provided,” she told Boston.com. “The MCAS could show whether there is any difference between towns that went back to in person learning vs. those that stayed remote only. I think this year is exactly when it matters to understand how to succeed going forward.”

The MCAS is also beneficial in alerting school districts which areas will need more time and attention in upcoming school years, argue some readers. 

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“MCAS data from this year will help DESE to focus remedial services to students,” said one reader. “There is a learning gap that will require resources and funding to help students get back learning lost during the COVID crisis.”

Ultimately, the real benefit this year’s MCAS will be in answering the question of “how far behind are kids after the pandemic,” said Jim from Worcester. “It might make sense to cancel the requirement for graduating seniors, but right now it is the only tool which can be used to compare pre-pandemic learning to post-pandemic.”

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Boston.com occasionally interacts with readers by conducting informal polls and surveys. These results should be read as an unscientific gauge of readers’ opinion.

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