High-Stakes Testing

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Massachusetts relies heavily on standardized exams — primarily MCAS tests — to label and punish students, educators, schools and districts. This system shuts down the critical thinking that students need to develop in order to become questioners, independent thinkers and conscientious citizens. We call for a three-year moratorium on using test results to stigmatize and punish students and teachers and to privatize, take over or close schools.

Background on High-Stakes Testing

High-stakes testing began after passage of the Education Reform Act of 1993. The amount of testing and stakes attached to the MCAS have grown steadily since then —under the No Child Left Behind act and the Race to the Top grant program, and under state regulations and policies that were linked to those federal mandates.

Parents, students and educators in Massachusetts and across the country are pushing back against this overuse and misuse of standardized testing. Teachers assess students all the time to guide instruction. These everyday assessments are not the problem. Rather, it’s about the excessive amount of time and money spent on externally created standardized testing and the high stakes attached to the results.

Students in low-income communities of color are the hardest hit. Too much time is spent on test prep in these communities, and the curriculum is often narrowed to make more time for tested subjects and skills. The consequences are also more severe, including budget cuts, school closures and the loss of teacher autonomy, robbing students of the education they deserve.

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MEJA is supporting S.308An Act strengthening and investing in our educators, students and communities. One provision of this omnibus education bill would require Massachusetts to rethink its high-stakes testing regime. It would establish a three-year moratorium on the use of standardized test scores for graduation and/or district accountability, and it would end the use of state standardized test scores in evaluating educators. It also calls for a task force to examine standardized assessments and examine alternative methods for assessing programs by students, teachers, schools and districts.

Major Concerns

Here are some of the concerns that educators, parents and students are expressing about the testing system.

  • Reduces time to teach. Standardized tests and test preparation take time away from students’ learning.
     
  • Narrows the curriculum. These tests are forcing teachers to teach to the test and spend less time on important subjects and skills, such as history and the arts or working collaboratively on group projects. They narrow our sense of the purpose of education. We can’t allow bureaucrats and corporations to dictate what’s taught in our schools. We need to let teachers teach.
     
  • Misuses scarce education dollars. Instead of paying millions of dollars to big corporations to produce these tests, we should spend money on strategies that teachers, parents and researchers know improve our schools, such as smaller class sizes, quality preschool programs and a rich and varied curriculum.
     
  • Adds stress and reduces creativity. High-stakes tests take the joy out of learning and the creativity out of teaching. Students experience incredible stress and get the message that they are failures when education should be building on their strengths.

Additional Resources

  • Citizens for Public Schools is spearheading the Less Testing, More Learning campaign. Many MEJA member organizations are part of this effort, which include supporting the moratorium effort, passing local resolutions against high-stakes testing, and providing parents with information on how to opt their children out of testing.
     
  • The Massachusetts Teachers Association has extensive information about issues related to testing and actions that people can take. The MTA and AFT Massachusetts websites also include updates on the use of test scores in the educator evaluation system. 
     
  • The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, better known as FairTest, has been advocating for an end to the overuse and abuse of standardized tests for more than 20 years. The FairTest website has fact sheets and links on a wide array of issues, including testing young children and testing students with disabilities. It also includes the most comprehensive list anywhere of colleges and universities across the country that do not require students to submit SAT or ACT scores in order to apply.