Standardized testing hurts kids. As students struggle to cope with tragic loss and unprecedented need, it’s essential that we cancel high-stakes state testing for this spring. Kids need fully funded schools, internet access, food, healthy teachers, high-quality instructional time, and opportunities to build morale. They do not need confusing, exhausting, demoralizing tests used to label them and their schools as deficient. States must request testing waivers for this spring, and Education Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona must grant those requests. Going forward, we should demand an education plan that cuts ties with the failed corporate test-based reform movement. To that end, here are some things we can do:
Teachers and their unions should continue to call on our state education departments and the Biden administration to put testing on hold for 2021. While national teachers union leaders have at times compromised with corporate reformers, teachers unions have generally played a prominent role in resisting high-stakes testing. More militant rank-and-file teachers have, in the past, taken bold individual and collective actions to protest harmful testing regimes. The Massachusetts Teachers Association has a handy explainer on teachers’ rights to protest high-stakes testing. It’s worth noting, though, that disrupting the status quo sometimes requires acting outside of our legally protected rights. The teachers who refused to administer tests in Washington, Florida, Colorado and elsewhere took significant risks on behalf of their students.
Parents have more freedom to interfere with high-stakes testing. They can simply refuse to allow their children to be tested this spring, a freedom that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) recognizes. Since ESSA’s passage, the opt-out movement gained steam in a number of states. In New York State, 21% of students opted out of Common Core testing in 2016; that number has dropped somewhat in recent years. The Department of Education threatened to cut Title 1 funding for states with high opt-out rates, instructing them to sanction districts that fail to test 95% of students. Some states followed suit. But the National Center for Fair and Open Testing maintains that these threats have thus far been empty. A representative for the non-profit wrote in the Washington Post that “practically speaking, it is unlikely that most states have the wherewithal or capacity to intervene in schools just because of test refusals.”
Whatever approach Cardona takes, one thing is sure: As with resistance to hasty reopening plans that trample over the needs of teachers and low-income parents, student-teacher-parent solidarity will be key. To stop this season’s tests--and to undo the failed neoliberal education reforms going forward--we will need to stand together.
MA-Specific Actions: Here’s a list of actions MTA members and other public school stakeholders can take to get MCAS cancelled this year. If you’re a concerned resident who is not a stakeholder, you can contact your state senator, Governor Charlie Baker, and Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley, and urge them to #CANCELMCAS. Even better, you can share this information with the stakeholders you know. Ask students and parents in your life how they feel about testing. Here's a petition pressing Baker, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and our state legislature to place a moratorium on high-stakes testing and develop a better system for ensuring we’re accountable to students.