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Monday, June 24, 2024

I am a retired Boston Public Schools teacher. Most of my 16 years of teaching were as a fourth- and fifth-grade Spanish bilingual teacher. I also worked in Cambridge Public Schools as a curriculum developer, substitute teacher and at the Parent Information Center, registering families new to the district. The majority of my students were from Puerto Rico. Many struggled with speaking, reading and writing in both languages and many were special-education students. Spanglish was their preferred language. Here are some ways that standardized testing was an obstacle to student success.

Before the MCAS standardized test, the Boston school district used a test called “The Met” (short for the Metropolitan Achievement Test). Year by year, the emphasis on testing grew. In preparation, the students had to spend some time every week using a workbook of multiple-choice questions called “Scoring High.” As we now know, tests and curriculum in those years were insensitive to cultural, racial and socioeconomic diversity (though current tests aren’t much better). For example, students who never experienced travel outside the inner city were asked to reflect on a day at a farm or a family vacation road trip – experiences they never had.

Testing days were fraught with anxiety for teachers and students. We had to leave our familiar classroom to administer the test in the lunchroom, library, gym or auditorium so students wouldn’t be sitting close enough to cheat. Special-education students were given the  accommodations of taking as long as needed on a timed test, and they sometimes worked until the school bell rang at the end of the day. This meant sitting alone somewhere, acutely aware of being different from the other students.

The MCAS was first administered in 1998. In 2003, passing this test became a requirement for high school graduation. Teachers were evaluated on their students’ scores. More and more time was spent “teaching to the test.” So much of why we loved teaching was lost. Students not only took the MCAS, but also had end-of-the-year achievement tests in English and Spanish. One fourth-grader told me he wanted to run in front of the school bus to avoid having to take tests again all day long. Parents and other educators have shared similar painful experiences resulting from the pressures of MCAS and high stakes testing.

The Thrive Act, which is being considered by the Massachusetts Legislature, will eliminate the requirement to pass the 10th-grade MCAS to get a high school diploma. But that’s not enough. We should eliminate this and other forms of high-stakes tests at all grade levels and use assessments of student progress that are not traumatic.

Shelley Rieman, Franklin Street, Cambridge