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Educator addresses the big picture about testing

I want to talk, instead, about the big picture. I am an educator in the trenches. I work in schools where the difference between a 222 and a 218 on the 10th grade MCAS can be the difference between a future and no future. Preliminary MCAS data came on out Monday, and I can already tell you that our focus on writing is paying off, with our students, most of whom are from Lawrence, only about 1/10 of a point behind state averages on open response and long comp, but we need to drill down on the Key Ideas and Details and Craft and Structure reading standards to figure out how best to address our weaknesses. Next Wednesday, I’m meeting with a team of teachers to align DDM rubrics. In other words, I take assessments and state mandates very seriously.

And yet sometimes, I stop and I ask myself, what are we doing? Did any of us really go into education because we wanted to give kids tests? I don’t think so. I think you all, like me, are involved in education because you want to see kids learn and grow in the best possible way. Is assessment part of that learning and growing? Absolutely. Is piling more and more tests onto our children the best possible way? I don’t think so.

Arlington students take quizzes, unit tests, PSATs, and AP exams. They do DDMs, which are sometimes integrated into classroom and/or common assessments, but sometimes aren’t - as we saw two weeks ago. If they are ELL students, they take ACCESS. If they are in kindergarten, they will now be taking the GOLD assessment, and soon they will be taking standardized tests in grades 1 and 2 as well. Once they hit third grade, they take MCAS, and they may eventually take PARCC.

We can split hairs on whether PARCC means more testing sessions (it does) or potentially fewer testing hours (you can look at it that way), but there is no doubt that we are just seeing the beginning of the additional testing that PARCC will entail -- their original plan included optional formative assessments, and a recent update spoke about diagnostic assessments and speaking and listening assessments. If those tests are there, districts are going to administer them.

But is this really the way we want to go? Does the Arlington community want a testing-oriented educational environment? Do we think it’s acceptable that the state keeps throwing new assessment mandates at us, without our input?

Massachusetts is a state that takes its decision making seriously and is not afraid to reconsider. Look at casinos: six months ago, they seemed like a done deal; now they’re back on the ballot. A month ago the message from DESE was that districts should switch to PARCC next year - the title of their PowerPoint on the subject is “Why PARCC in 2015?” Now that districts are not falling into line, for a variety of reasons, from technology to philosophy, Mitchell Chester is changing his tune and saying they want a 50-50 split between PARCC and MCAS. If this was ever a predetermined situation, it isn’t anymore.

I’m not asking you to a make a protest vote. I’m asking you to vote for what you think is the right path for our children. Your decision is for next year, but it also has implications for where we, as a state and a community, go in the future. I know you take the responsibility of that decision very seriously, and I appreciate your attention this evening.


This viewpoint was published Thursday, June 26, 2014.

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