COVID throwing MCAS for a loop

MTA is right to call for four-year moratorium

In a recent column, Liam Kerr was so focused on excoriating the Massachusetts Teachers Association leadership that he failed to recognize that MCAS is in deep trouble. Logistically, it’s hard to administer the test when students are not in school, but it’s even more difficult to sanction students and schools when testing benchmarks disappear. COVID-19 has thrown an enormous monkey wrench in the MCAS machinery, and Kerr would do well to join the MTA leadership in calling for a four-year moratorium on testing.

Public school students lost three months of in-person education last year. As a result, they will begin the coming school year with a learning deficit that, even without a pandemic, would be hard to make up. This year is already shaping up to be another year of educational disruption with remote learning featured prominently. Massachusetts school children have been forced into an educational experiment none of us were quite prepared for. Massachusetts teachers will continue to do their best to educate our students, but a growing gap in student learning should be anticipated.

Meet the Author

Mark L Bail

English teacher, East Longmeadow High School
Schools are legally required to provide 990 hours of uninterrupted, in-person instruction every year. MCAS is predicated on this schooling being generally equal between students and schools. With these two variables remaining constant, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education claims that test results reflect the quality of student educational experiences. Instead of remaining constant, however, instruction and time on learning have become confounding variables, making it impossible to separate yearly progress on tests from the effects of remote learning and less instructional time. Comparing similar communities, which MCAS’s District Analysis and Review Tools (DART) purport to do, would be confounded as well.

The MTA has proposed a four-year moratorium on MCAS. It’s a sensible proposal. The high-stakes test was canceled last school year, and it should be canceled in the coming school year. After the pandemic, it will take two or three years to recover. Students will need time to begin catching up on missed learning. MCAS tests will need to be recalibrated to account for the post-pandemic, educational realities. Cancelling MCAS is a risky proposition for the self-justifying, self-important system. Its absence could demonstrate how useless it actually is. Persisting in its administration during the pandemic and its aftermath will only expose MCAS as a meaningless endeavor used to give education reform the appearance of legitimacy.

Mark L. Bail has been teaching high school English for 27 years at East Longmeadow High School. The views and opinions expressed in this op-ed are his and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the MTA or its leadership, which played no role in his writing it.