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Too Great a Focus on Standardized Tests in Massachusetts?

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is scheduled to vote today on standardized testing. Credit: Alan Mark/Flickr.
The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is scheduled to vote today on standardized testing. Credit: Alan Mark/Flickr.
November 17, 2015

BOSTON – This week marks American Education Week, and the stage is set for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to take a vote today on the future of standardized testing.

Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, is disappointed that the board that sets policy for public school students in the commonwealth is spending so much time trying to figure out the best standardized test to administer.

"We keep being distracted from real issues of teaching, and learning, by these questions about which high-stakes, standardized test we should be using," she says. "In fact, we shouldn't be using any high-stakes, standardized testing."

At the final public hearing before today's vote, Madeloni called for a three-year moratorium to assess the value of standardized testing.

Special education teacher Heidi Lahey of Sterling, who serves as president of the Wachusett Regional Education Association, says as early as kindergarten, standardized tests can squelch the desire to learn, even for the youngest students.

"When they hear the kids who know the letters, and when they don't, they know that they are falling short, self-labeling themselves as 'failure,'" she says. "Kids are really hard on themselves."

Madeloni notes the board will be voting on a new Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System Test, version 2.0. It would replace a test known by the acronym PARCC, Madelino says the name change won't resolve the public's concerns about too much testing.

"To say that it is 'PARCC' is a problem," she says. "So I think we've done a good job pushing back at the PARCC testing itself. There's a shell game going on, and in fact, we're going to get PARCC. They're just going to call it by another name."

Madeloni says the tests have been criticized for reducing classroom teaching time, and as a result, narrowing what students are taught – a concept that is often called "teaching to the test."

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting gets underway today at 8:30 a.m. at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education at 75 Pleasant St. in Malden. It is scheduled to run until 1 p.m.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - MA