Saturday, April 20, 2024

A Graham & Parks elementary school teacher is getting a one-day suspension without pay for a day for refusing to administer spring MCAS tests. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Two Cambridge Public Schools educators out of 52 have been suspended without pay for a day for declining to administer the MCAS tests to elementary school students this spring: Rose Levine, a fifth-grade teacher at the Graham & Parks School, and Sarah Rosenberg, an instructional technology specialist at the MLK and Tobin schools.

Fifty-two Cambridge educators, chiefly in the elementary and upper school grades, told their principals that they could not in good faith administer the MCAS standardized tests and would stand as “conscientious objectors” to what they perceive as deep inequities in the creation, administration and use of student test scores, according to a Cambridge Education Association press release dated May 21. (Fifty-three educators signed the letter; one was from outside Cambridge.)

Levine and Rosenberg were quoted in that release giving their reasons for not administering the tests this year. In addition, Levine wrote about her decision in an essay published May 24 on Cambridge Day.

Levine and Rosenberg are the only educators known to be disciplined by the district, CEA president Dan Monahan said.

Their suspension is scheduled for June 21 – the day Levine’s class celebrates its “Moving Up” graduation ceremony, marking their transition to middle school in the fall.

Update on June 16, 2021: The district has moved Levine’s suspension date to Tuesday so she can attend her fifth-grade class’ Moving Up ceremony, Levine said.

No Cambridge educators had been disciplined for recusal from administering MCAS testing until late last week. In late May, Monahan said that “the conscientious objectors are making a moral choice to not administer the tests,” and expressed concern that educators would be penalized for their stand.

A district administrator emailed a statement that the district cannot comment on disciplinary actions against individual staff members, and reiterated a May 27 statement from superintendent Kenneth Salim that the state “does not recognize an opt-out process for MCAS,” and educators were told by Salim in an April memo that they have an “obligation to proctor and administer the MCAS … and that any educators who fail to fulfill their duties may be subject to disciplinary consequences.”

No principals had expressed concerns regarding administration of the tests to the administration, Salim said at the time.

Educators and officials opposed

Salim was among the 25 urban superintendents signing a March 26 letter to state education officials opposing spring MCAS testing as an unnecessary distraction this year. The group represents districts with a combined 279,653 students, or 31 percent of the state’s student population.

The School Committee also approved a motion April 6 urging the state to suspend MCAS for the school year – or, failing that, that the superintendent improve how student assessment information is shared with families.

The state insisted, though, and the tests were administered in the district. “Cambridge has moved forward to comply with the law,” but with no negative impact on students or families based on spring MCAS results or for those who refuse to participate, Salim said.

Use of MCAS scores

Educators say the high-stakes test diverts time and energy away from helping students and families unsettled by 14 months of pandemic, as well as being unnecessary, and urban superintendents pointed to several “more nuanced” ways to assess learning loss. In addition, “if the state wanted to have a system to hold schools accountable, sampling and statistical methods would be far easier to implement and not as disruptive,” Monahan said. He also noted a long history of racism in the development and use of standardized tests.

While some schools use the MCAS as a tool to focus supports for students, the results of tests held in the spring are provided to schools the next fall, which limits their value.

Students in grades 3 through 8 take the English Learning Arts and Math tests, with grades 5 and 8 also taking the Science Technology & Engineering MCAS.

Tests at the elementary level were scheduled from May 10 to Friday, and in the upper schools from May 17 to Friday. This year the tests were shorter, and were not timed. The tests for in-person and remote students were administered online.

State and federal law require public schools to administer the tests, with penalties for districts with low participation rates. This penalty has been waived this year due to the effects of the pandemic.