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Here’s why some educators, groups are continuing to call for the MCAS to be canceled this year

“There’s nothing standard about the conditions that we’ve all been under.”

Craig F. Walker/Globe staff

Following a school year of remote and hybrid learning, Massachusetts students are now expected to sit for the MCAS tests.

But some teaching staff, and advocacy groups, say the tests should’ve been canceled, and are pushing for the state to still do just that.

A standout was held Monday morning in Hull, where parents and teaching staff gathered to show support for the measure, according to the State House News Service. It noted that over 50 educators in Cambridge, plus one in Hull, have told principals that they will not administer the tests this year.

This isn’t the first time there’s been opposition to the tests. The organization Citizens for Public Schools, which does advocacy on public education in Massachusetts, has pushed for a different way to assess learning other than the standardized test for awhile.

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“We’ve been advocating against the high-stakes use of the MCAS and for developing better alternatives for a time,” Lisa Guisbond, executive director of the organization, recently told Boston.com. “This is especially acute this year because of the disruptions caused by the pandemic.”

Students must pass several of the tests in high school to be able to graduate, though that requirement has been lifted for some students due to the pandemic. The tests were postponed for younger students as schools were reopened full time this spring, and some of them are being administered now. In 2020, the tests were canceled.

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Other groups have come out against having the MCAS this year. Back in late February, the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents put out a statement and counterarguments to the state’s reasoning for having the tests.

“We ask our legislators to use their ‘bully pulpit’ to insist that DESE allow local formative and benchmark assessments to be used to measure and intervene on student learning loss in lieu of state mandated assessments,” the statement said.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association also opposed the tests.

“High-stakes tests are problematic in any year, but they are especially damaging in the midst of a pandemic,” the group said in a statement on its website. “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. It also requires students to crowd into school buildings to take these tests, needlessly exposing them and staff to the coronavirus.”

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One of the major reasons to have the tests is to identify learning loss from the pandemic, according to Guisbond, as well as the superintendents’ association. But she argued that the test just adds more trauma to students who are already experiencing it due to the pandemic.

“Also, there’s not going to be any valid or useful information coming out of these tests because they call them standardized tests because they’re supposed to be administered under standard conditions,” she said. “There’s nothing standard about the conditions that we’ve all been under.”

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Guisbond also noted that teachers are able to identify student learning gaps, and help students get back on track.

“A good teacher knows to assess what’s going on with their kids and also prioritize addressing the social, emotional, mental health needs because so many kids are coming back with trauma and they’re not going to be able to learn if they’re that traumatized,” she said.

Then there’s the waste of resources, she argued.

“The money that goes into the tests themselves, the staffing, the time, the disruption of learning that comes from the testing time, the resources could be so much better spent and focused on dealing with kids’ trauma, making them feel comfortable and welcome and cared for, and then looking at what their individual learning status might be,” she said.

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When discussing learning loss, Jeff Riley, the state commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said earlier this year that it’s going to take “several years” to get students back to where they should be.

“I think we have to work on the social, emotional needs of our students — make sure they have everything from the food they need to the counseling services to the special education supports,” he said at the time. “As a former special education teacher and adjustment counselor, I can tell you we’ve got to make sure our kids are in the right place mentally. And then after that we can take care of the academics.”

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