WOBURN - The local School Committee may waddle into an ongoing debate over the future of MCAS and its successor exam and the linking of teacher performance reviews to student testing results.
During a recent meeting, School Committee member Dr. John Wells, referencing legislation recently introduced at the State House that would dramatically alter the manner in which so-called high stakes testing data is used, suggested city officials should take a position on the proposal.
“There seems to be a lot of support [for these changes], and we may want to take a look at whether we want to [weigh in],” said Wells.
Though he didn’t specifically mention the legislation by name, Wells was likely referring to a proposal entitled, “An Act Strengthening and Investing in our Educators, Students, and Communities”, which would implement comprehensive education reforms, including:
• The imposition of a three-year moratorium on the use of MCAS, PARCC, or the next generation MCAS 2.0 testing results as a high school graduation requirement;
• A prohibition on incorporating “student impact” ratings, or indicators based on MCAS or other student assessment data, into teacher evaluation grades;
• New limitations on the state’s power to mandate changes at “underperforming schools”, a designation that is now largely based upon test scores.
• A new recess mandate, which requires school districts to schedule weekly at least 100 minutes of free play time for pupils in grades K-5.
Introduced by State Senator Michael Rush (D-West Roxbury), Bill S.308 has garnered the support of more than 100 other legislators on Beacon Hill, including State Rep. James Dwyer (D-Woburn). In late January it was referred to the State House’s Joint Committee on Education for further study.
The language of the proposal, which has been endorsed by the Mass. Teachers Association (MTA), is similar to legislation which died in legislative limbo last year after being buried in a study committee.
Crafted by a Cambridge legislator, that proposal would have similarly suspended for three years the use of MCAS, PARCC, or any other state assessment for teacher evaluations, as a graduation requirement, or as a way to measure school accountability statuses.
According to Wells, though a fair argument can be made that student achievement measures are far too dependent upon standardized tests, he believes MCAS and similar assessments do play an important role in guiding school and classroom-level improvements.
“It shouldn’t be the end all, be all, but testing serves its purpose,” said Wells. “We look at it as a means of evaluating how effective things are and how we can improve.”
School Committee member Joseph Demers, who serves as a legislative aid to Dwyer, predicted Bill S.308 is unlikely to make it out to both chambers of the State House for a final vote. Instead, he believes proponents of the legislation, like his employer, intend to use the measure as a way to gain leverage in making less severe changes to the way the state uses MCAS.
“With regards to the high-stakes testing legislation, I personally don’t think it’s going anywhere,” said Demers.
The proposed legislation is being introduced as the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is preparing to roll out this spring a brand new computer-based state assessment, labelled MCAS 2.0.
For the past two years, all pupils, besides those at WMHS, have been taking the now-defunct PARCC exam. PARCC was long expected to replace MCAS, but in November of 2015, just months after approximately half of all public schools in Massachusetts administered for the first time the new exam, DESE’s education board voted to abandon the common assessment.
In the same announcement, the state education officials unveiled plans to roll-out instead the next generation MCAS 2.0, which blends together items from both PARCC and the original MCAS test, which state education officials are now labeling as Legacy MCAS.
Moving forward, according to state education officials, all pupils in grades 3 through 8 will start taking MCAS 2.0 this spring, while high school students will continue taking the Legacy MCAS exams, which all 10th graders must pass in order to graduate.
In 2018, the computer requirement will be expanded to include fifth and seventh graders. By 2019, all pupils in grades 3-8 must take the Internet-based test. State officials have yet to disclose a schedule for MCAS 2.0 for high school pupils, though it is expected 9th graders will eventually begin taking that exam.
Last October, DESE’s education board voted unanimously in favor of switching out entirely by 2021 the Legacy MCAS exam. That will mean this year’s eighth graders will become the first sophomore class required to pass MCAS 2.0 in order to graduate.