LETTER FROM THE MEMBERS OF THE URBAN SUPERINTENDENTS NETWORK
EPS Joins Effort to Seek a Waiver from Mandatory Testing Requirements
NOTE FROM SUPERINTENDENT PRIYA TAHILIANI:
The following letter was drafted by the Urban Superintendents’ Network, of which I am a proud member. I urge our families and residents to read this communication, which clearly and convincingly articulates why mandatory MCAS testing would be detrimental to our students. The EPS and its educators are committed to making the absolute best out of the time we have left in 2020-2021 for full-time in-person teaching and learning. We hope to address several key issues when our students return to their classrooms in April, and I can assure you that standardized-test prep is not among them. Required testing is not fair to our students, our teachers, or our families.
Dear Members of the Board of Education:
The Urban Superintendents’ Network comprises 25 urban school districts located in various regions across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and educating 279,653 students, making up approximately 31% of the entire public-school student population in our state. We write to you today as the chief child education advocates in our respective school districts with grave concerns regarding the decision to proceed with the requirement of administering the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test this year to students in grades 3-8 and high school. We write to you today to give voice to the students and their families who do not have voice; we write to you today from the lens of equity and fairness. Finally, we write to you today from the core value of putting the needs of our children first; we contend, a state- wide assessment is not an immediate need this spring.
We are struggling to understand the point of diverting our time, energy, and talent from the very real work of ensuring that urban students and their families are supported to combat ongoing food and housing insecurities, physical health and safety issues, social -emotional and mental health concerns, and academic gaps and foundational learning losses. In urban school districts in particular, we must wraparound our students and families and do all of these things. This is equity work, this is putting students first this spring. This is meeting students where they are first, and then moving them forward to success.
The core value of putting students first upon return means we are deploying our teachers to support our students socially and emotionally, establishing routines, comfort, relationships, and beginning to accelerate in a growth-mindset and forgiving environment where learning can occur. Whether we as the adults say the tests are or are not high stakes, our students will internalize the MCAS as a judgment. A judgment on students who have felt the greatest impact of Covid – 19; have spent the greatest number of days in remote learning compared to other students across the Commonwealth. Results of the tests will be publicly available – comparisons will be made district to district—and conclusions will be drawn, and stereotypes reinforced about urban schools and urban students. This is inequity at its most harmful to our next generation.
The argument that the MCAS test is needed to assess learning loss and can be used as a diagnostic, is invalid. As school district leaders, we have at our fingertips in our school districts, multiple formative and benchmark assessments, as well as the district determined measures developed a few years back. Local assessments are more nuanced and are able to truly be diagnostic as the local tests determine the learning progressions missing along the way to proficiency on the Standard. MCAS results are not timely and only tell us if the Standard was met—MCAS is a summative assessment, not formative, and not diagnostic. There are inconsistencies to the Commissioner waiving the Competency Determination (CD) for seniors (three MCAS tests) and allowing in lieu of the CD, course grades, and yet not allowing for those same course grades to be used in combination with local, district determined measures already being used by numerous school districts to assess learning loss.
Ultimately, there is no valid purpose for administering MCAS this spring to our students that we are able to present to you—other than the administration of the test will fulfill a perfunctory compliance task that is disruptive and stealing our valuable time away from efforts toward a healthy return, recovery, and acceleration of learning for all. Stealing time from our students.
Therefore, we ask that you join us in putting students first this spring; in providing students what they need through an EQUITY lens. Join us in requesting Commissioner Riley and Secretary Peyser petition Secretary of US DOE Miguel Cardona to waive the federal requirement for state testing this year. We are Massachusetts, number one in the nation for education. When we talk, our federal leaders do listen. We ask for the Massachusetts Board of Education members to join us in putting our students first.