MALDEN, MASS., DEC, 20, 2016….As state education officials considered a proposal to add new standardized testing for high schoolers, the head of the Massachusetts Teachers Association implored them to reject the idea.
“Please, step back. Don’t let this go on,” MTA president Barbara Madeloni told the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Tuesday.
But members of the Board and Elementary and Secondary Education on Tuesday offered no criticism of their own in response to Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester’s recommendation to add history and social scientist tests as a graduation requirement, noting exams in those subjects were called for in statute. Board Chairman Paul Sagan said there was “enthusiasm” for the additional tests.
With an overhaul underway of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, Chester suggested to the board policy changes around the administration of the tests for high school students. Massachusetts high schoolers now must pass the standardized tests in math, English and science to earn their diplomas.
The state law around educational goals and standards includes history and social science as among the subjects that require assessment as part of a competency determination for graduation. Those tests would have become a graduation requirement beginning with the class of 2012, but the Board of Education voted 8-2 in 2009 to suspend the tests for at least two years, citing effects of the recession.
“I made the recommendation to the board to postpone the implementation back around when the economy was falling through the floor,” Chester said Tuesday. “We were scheduled to start to bring it online and for me one of the concerns was that at a point in time where the economy was going south, budgets were going south, state budgets were being cut, school districts were in a bind. It seemed to me that that’s not the right time to be increasing the requirements for students…if in fact we can’t at the same time reciprocate by providing the supports to students to support them in being successful against those increased requirements.”
The education department will spend the bulk of the next year looking at options for when to administer history and social sciences tests and what those exams might look like, Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson said.
Madeloni called it “breathtaking” that additional tests were on the table, saying high-stakes standardized testing is “narrowing our curriculum” and creates stress for both students and teachers.
“I cannot believe that you are being asked to add more testing to that regime,” she said. “It reflects a profoundly bureaucratic and technocratic view of what it means to learn.”
Another of Chester’s recommendations was the elimination of high school chemistry and technology/engineering tests, which he said were taken by only 5 percent of students last year while the “overwhelming majority” took biology and introductory physics tests to fulfill their science requirements.
Education Secretary Jim Peyser suggested offering alternative tests for those subjects instead that were not developed and run by the state — for example, allowing a student to fulfill their competency determination by earning a certain score on an Advanced Placement chemistry test.
“In some way I don’t want to kind of send the signal that these subjects don’t matter,” he said.
The board will next discuss Chester’s MCAS recommendations in January, when it meets jointly with the Board of Higher Education.
Copyright 2016 State House News Service