We Object to These Tests

Parents explain why they think the standardized tests in Massachusetts do more harm than good

By Steve Cohen, Linda Nathan, Pat Herrington, Dawn Shearer Coren, Margery Wilson, and Tim Wise

We, the parents of five fourth-graders at Cambridgeport Elementary school, are refusing to allow our children to take the MCAS [Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System] tests. Instead, on May 17 we began an alternative parent-led curriculum for our children during the testing periods to protest the excessive class time devoted to a standardized test that we feel does much more harm than good for public education in Massachusetts.

We have taken this dramatic step because we strongly object to the way in which the MCAS test has come to dominate the fourth-grade curriculum in the spring. Despite teachers’ conscientious efforts to limit its impact, the MCAS testing will take at least 20 hours of class time, not counting preparation and recovery time. We feel this is time that should be spent learning math, reading, spelling, and other important subjects, rather than learning how to score well on standardized tests on those subjects. We object to the clearly negative impact this is having on our children’s education.

By refusing to allow our children to be tested, we are providing them with a far richer educational experience than marathon test-taking, and we are protesting the imposition of this particularly excessive and inappropriate assessment tool. We all strongly believe in high standards and performance-based assessment, but feel the MCAS undermines both.

Dr. Deborah Meier, founder of the Mission Hill Elementary School and the first public school teacher to win a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award, put it well in a statement issued last year by a committee of educators: “Success for all kids – rich and poor – requires high standards linked to rigorous, performance-based assessment. The path the MCAS leads us on will not reach this vital goal. Instead, it will weaken the quality of many schools and do little to cause real improvements where they are needed.”

The Cambridgeport School administration has discouraged our action, but neither we nor our children are being threatened with punitive measures, as have others in the state who have refused to take the test. According to the state’s policies, however, our school will be “punished” by having non-participating students (who represent about 15% of fourth-graders in the school) scored “zero” instead of “absent.” This will, therefore, depress the results reported for the school in what is emerging as the annual competition among Massachusetts schools to see which can score best on the MCAS tests. We reject that competition and urge any who doubt the quality of education being practiced at Cambridgeport School to come look at the impressive portfolios each child has, a collection of work that represents a truly comprehensive assessment of learning.