With the worldwide coronavirus pandemic preventing students from attending Massachusetts public schools, there have been questions about whether the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) would give the annual required MCAS test to students in Grades 3 to 8, as well as the high school exams.

As it turns out, back in March, DESE, which oversees the Commonwealth’s public K – 12 schools, applied for and received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education not to give the MCAS test, said DESE Spokesperson Jacqueline Reis.

But the requirement to test isn’t just a federal law, she said.

“Massachusetts also has a state assessment requirement,” she told baystateparent.

Governor Baker, Reis said, “filed legislation that would allow (DESE) Commissioner Jeff Riley to modify or waive this year’s MCAS testing requirement. The proposed legislation would also permit the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, upon the Commissioner’s recommendation, to modify or waive the required competency determination for high school graduation.”

As for whether the Commissioner thinks the MCAS test should be given, Reis said, “Out of respect for the legislative process, the Commissioner is waiting to see what, if any, authorities the legislature will grant him before commenting on whether MCAS should be given this year.”

The MCAS test came about as a result of the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform law, which introduced a number of changes to the Commonwealth’s public schools. The MCAS test has been given since 1998.

Under federal education law, known as “ESSA,” for Every Student Succeeds Act, Massachusetts, because it receives federal money annually for its public schools – about $600 million – is required to give a yearly standardized test to its Grade 3 to 8 public school children and another to public high school students.

When Congress passed a bill in March to provide relief due to the coronavirus, known as the “CARES” Act, or Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, it also authorized the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) to waive the annual requirement that the nation’s public schools test students in Grades 3 to 8 and in high school.  

Since the law’s passage, state education departments in all 50 states have applied for and received a waiver from the DOE not to test their students. 

Among New England states, only Rhode Island and New Hampshire confirmed they will not test their students this year.  

“Even if schools re-open on May 4 (as they’re scheduled to do in Massachusetts) the kids will have missed the better part of two months of school,” said Frederick Hess, an executive editor at Harvard University’s EducationNext journal and the director of education studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a think-tank in Washington DC. “Some schools are better set up to teach remotely than others but the reliability and the validity of the test results are questionable.”

The Commonwealth’s public schools have been closed since the middle of March.

“Even if we go back to school before June, it will be impossible to return to business as usual,” said Merrie Najimy, president of Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA), the union representing a number of the state’s public school teachers, which is calling on the state’s legislators to cancel this year’s MCAS test. “Threatening to require students to take a test is not only a colossal waste of time, it’s inhumane.”

About 420,000 Massachusetts public school children, about 40 percent of the Commonwealth’s public school student body, take the annual MCAS exams.