Friday, July 12, 2024

It is common knowledge that the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test is intended to help teachers, students and their families know where students excel and where they need help. (Though since test results are provided in the following academic year, they are of little value.) Currently, Massachusetts is one of only eight states that prevents students from getting a high school diploma without passing such a test by grade 12 no matter how well she or he has demonstrated subject matter knowledge and received passing or even very high grades in all subjects.

We also all have many other ways of demonstrating our skills, creativity and ability to deeply understand and interpret our world. Some people exhibit their brilliance through music, painting, dance, poetry. As a 20-year veteran of photographing students at the Boston Arts Academy, I am aware of the deeply moving ways young people can demonstrate their intelligence through each of the arts. Others demonstrate through their unique ability to install electrical systems, solve plumbing problems, create AI systems, build computers. None of these remarkable skills and unique understandings are being assessed through MCAS testing. Yet each of these talents and abilities makes our daily lives richer, easier, more enjoyable.

And, as a veteran of more than 29 years of high school teaching of language arts in alternative and more traditional programs in Cambridge, I am keenly aware of the value of personal relationships between teachers and their students. With a strong focus on MCAS, there is constant pressure on teachers to prepare their students for these tests. That preparation time does not allow for teachers to focus on alternative ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge. And often does not allow time in the schedule for alternatives such as advisory groups through which students and teachers can build significant relationships that then enhance the way students learn.

I want to thank the Cambridge School Committee for passing a resolution in support of The Thrive Act, which allows students to demonstrate their knowledge through alternative avenues, none of which are “new.” Now the Massachusetts state Legislature needs to adopt the Thrive Act for every school system in the state. It needs to give students, parents and educators the opportunity to voice how these standardized tests affect their experience at all grade levels. And they need to tell parents of elementary students that they have the right to opt out of MCAS testing. At the elementary level, preparation for these tests takes time away from critical play time, recess and even rest time.

The Cambridge school system needs to be even more of a leader in education innovation. We have been there in the past. We need to retake that position.

 Phyllis Bretholtz, Antrim Street, Cambridge

Phyllis Bretholtz is a 29-year veteran Teacher at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School.