With Massachusetts K – 12 public schools closed because of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic until at least May 4, Gov. Charlie Baker signed legislation Friday that waives MCAS testing this academic year for Grades 3 – 8 as well as the exams required for students to receive a diploma from a Bay State public high school.
“There’s about a month left of the school year at that point,” said State Rep. Jim Hawkins (D-Attleboro), who supported the legislation. “Testing shouldn’t be on the agenda.”
However, the Bay State’s public high school freshmen and sophomores, who must pass the MCAS exams in English, Science and Math to receive their diplomas, may be subjected to taking those tests during the next school year, if they haven’t completed them already.
A public advocacy group, Citizens for Public Schools, generated a sizable outcry to suspend the tests, between 5,000 to 6,000 letters and phone calls from Bay State citizens over the course of two weeks, to Beacon Hill’s elected representatives
“Some legislators asked us to call it off because of the volume of emails and calls,” said Lisa Guisbond, the Citizens for Public Schools executive director, when describing the effectiveness of the campaign.
Despite waiving MCAS this year, students, teachers and school administrators may face new burdens.
“What if you’re in Spanish 1 right now?” said State Rep. Hawkins. “Are you ready for Spanish 2 next year (if you haven’t been to class)? This sounds like a terrible problem.”
“For many courses, math especially, there’s a logical progression,” adds Hawkins, a former high school math teacher. “That’s been interrupted. There might be some classes where that isn’t critical but for math, science and foreign languages it is.”
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 – 8 and in high school.
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, (DESE) which oversees the Commonwealth’s K – 12 public schools, and is the final arbiter of the MCAS tests for Grades 3 – 8 and the high school ones, applied for and received a waiver from the DOE to suspend the tests.
The MCAS tests, a result of the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform law, couldn’t be just suspended by DESE. Governor Baker submitted legislation to waive the tests, which passed both the state senate and the state house of representatives. Baker signed that legislation on Friday. The MCAS test has been given since 1998.
Federal education law, known as “ESSA”, for Every Student Succeeds Act, also requires Massachusetts, because it receives federal money for its public schools – about $600 million annually – to give a standardized test to its Grade 3 – 8 public school children and another to its public high school students.
While state education departments in all 50 states applied for and received a waiver from the DOE not to test their students, the only other New England states confirming they won’t test their students this year are Rhode Island and New Hampshire.
Massachusetts is one of 11 states that requires its public high school students to pass an exam to receive a diploma, says FairTest, an organization that tracks which states require high school exit exams.