MCAS tests

The Sandwich School Committee has unanimously supported a resolution to place a moratorium on high-stakes testing for the next three years, including the annual MCAS test.

The committee wants to do away with the tests for last year’s sophomores, this year’s sophomores, and next year’s sophomores.

A first reading of the resolution was scheduled for the board meeting on Wednesday, October 7. No vote was planned, but the board voted to waive a second reading and approved the resolution as written.

The approved resolution states that such testing this year would be inappropriate given the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the concerns listed are that remote and hybrid learning have had a negative and disproportionate impact on all students, including students with learning disabilities, students who come from low-income households, students for whom English is not their first language and students who identify as minorities; the social and emotional toll on students as a result of shutting down the schools in the spring has not yet been fully realized; and that valuable face-to-face instructional time has already been lost.

The test is typically a graduation requirement, but the board voted to ask the state to remove it as a requirement.

“We reiterate our call for a moratorium...so all students can benefit from their time being focused on direct instruction and we urge the legislature to enact a moratorium on high-stakes testing of three years,” the statement concludes.

The three-year moratorium was chosen to allow all current high school students to get through their school careers without having to worry about the test, vice chairwoman Kerri L. Ames said. It also ensures that last year’s sophomores will not be responsible for taking the test they missed during a time when they should be focused on finishing high school and preparing for college.

The resolution also includes the MCAS-Alt Assessment, which is an alternative method of assessing students who have significant learning disabilities by compiling a portfolio of their work. Ms. Ames said that while the wording of the resolution largely came from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, she added the MCAS-Alt Assessment to ensure that the resolution was equitable.

Board member Susan Miller asked if exempting students from the test would have any potential negative impacts going forward, for example on student college applications.

Superintendent Pamela A. Gould said that if Sandwich was the only district in the country making this resolution, it would. As it is, many districts in the state and across the country are dealing with the impacts of the pandemic.

“Schools still have to recruit kids,” she said. “I know it’s a piece of what colleges look for, but it’s not the be-all end-all.”

Dr. Gould said she is not against high-stakes testing, but said she does believe it has gone too far. She said she liked when testing was just done for 4th, 7th, and 10th grade students, to provide a snapshot of progress.

“I think we’ve become consumed with MCAS testing,” she said.

She said MCAS prep work and actual testing takes up a significant portion of the school year. In a year where students are learning in a mix of remote, hybrid, and in-person models and the year has already been reduced by 10 days, she said that testing will have significant impacts on instructional time.

While the district is against the testing this year, assessment and evaluation will still be taking place. Assistant Superintendent Maureen Wiklund said the district will be using an assessment tool called i-Ready in grades 1 through 12 to provide information on where students are in math and language arts.

This assessing will be done in addition to the other methods the schools currently use to determine how well students are learning.

The members of the board all provided support for the resolution, with several members stating that they would back the idea of rejecting standardized testing forever.

“Having sat on this school committee when this type of testing was put in place, which I think is one of the worst things to happen in this country and we’ve been paying for it ever since, I am proud to support this statement,” Ms. Miller said.

Ms. Ames wondered what would happen if the board decided that the district would no longer be taking part in the testing, though the answer to that question is not clear.

Ms. Wiklund said the MCAS is stressful for teachers in a typical year, but especially in a year where everything about teaching and learning is changed.

“Every teacher feels not only like a brand-new teacher, but a brand-new teacher who isn’t doing very well,” she said. “It would be so great to be able to say, really, don’t worry about the MCAS.”

Board secretary Kristin Bader said that the resolution sends a positive message to teachers that the school board has their back when it comes to the test.

Ms. Bader made a motion to accept the resolution as presented, which was seconded by Ms. Ames. The board accepted the resolution unanimously.

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