My Turn: Spring is in the air — The MCAS are coming soon

By DOUG SELWYN

Published: 02-13-2023 4:50 PM

With a hint of spring in the air (knowing there may well be more winter lurking) it can only mean one thing: The ritual abuse of our children that are the MCAS tests is only a month away. I am writing this now to make it clear that while the schools are required to offer the tests, students (grades 3-8) are not required to take them.

Opting them out of the tests is a way to protect your children from the harm they cause and a way to say to the state, we don’t want these tests. Here are a few reasons to opt out your children.

The MCAS cause harm/trauma to many students, especially learners with special needs, English language learners, learners of color, and learners whose strengths are not measured by computer or paper and pencil tests.

The intense emphasis on testing hurts all students. There are fewer field trips, projects, creative assignments, less time for recess and for pursuing the interests, questions and concerns of the children.

Students learn that their responsibility is to meet the demands of the system rather than to have education meet their needs. They are trained to ignore their own sense of themselves as learners and to simply do as they are told, and that someone else will tell them if they are good enough.

Many creative, engaged teachers or potential teachers decide not to take part in such a destructive system.

The MCAS are sold to us as standardized tests that allow us to compare students and schools. This is a lie. Statistics are clear: On average, children who live in middle class or wealthier neighborhoods, whose first language is English, and whose schools are well funded score better on the tests. This has nothing to do with how “smart” the children are or how skilled and devoted educators may be, but says much more about the inequality, the gap between haves and have-nots in our society.

Despite two decades of data making this clear, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education insists on administering the tests and insists on making the high school version of the tests a graduation requirement. Massachusetts is now one of only eight states that require students to pass tests in order to graduate.

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Educators and advocates have made the point that the MCAS are a poor assessment tool, bring harm and stress to the entire community, and put millions of our public education dollars into the pockets of private corporations like Pearson, who create the tests and test prep materials, create and sell the textbooks that districts hope will prepare their students to score well on the tests, and design remediation programs to help those students who fail the tests at the high school level.

The MCAS are all about money and control. They make millions for Pearson. They take away local control, from our teachers, administrators and community, and hand that control to the state. We are robbing our children of the education they could be receiving, an education that is exciting, involving, and that meets them where they are rather than forcing them to conform to the state’s one-size-fits-all program.

How do we fight this? One way is to just say no to the tests for children in grades three through eight. Protect them from the harm and trauma the tests bring to many of them, and at the same time say to the state that we do not support the MCAS. It is legal for families to opt out their children and there are no consequences for the child, the teacher or the school.

Another way is to write to your local legislators saying that you are against the MCAS and want them to stop. We are fortunate that our local legislators are all against the MCAS, but hearing from you makes them more able to make the case to their colleagues in the Legislature.

Opting out is easy. Write a note or letter to your child’s principal saying that you are opting your child out of the tests. You do not have to provide a reason, and while the administrator may give you pushback, this is your right. The school must provide educational activities and a safe place for your child to be while the tests are administered. These are our children, and our schools. We have the right and responsibility to act; together we can bring change.

Doug Selwyn is a former teacher, a Greenfield resident who is a member of the Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution’s education task force.

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