My name is Jonathan Guzman and I am the vice-chairman of the Lawrence School Committee. I am writing to ask you to exercise your authority to establish laws to protect future generations. In the wake of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s outrageous vote to increase MCAS passing scores, it’s time for the legislature to act and protect future generations from harmful education laws.
One important step you can take is to eliminate the use of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) as a graduation requirement. Parents, teachers, students, and community advocates have repeatedly raised the many concerns about MCAS’s passing score increase. Yet BESE ignored them. BESE ignored that standardized tests such as MCAS do not capture the whole student and students’ potential for long-term success. In addition, the Massachusetts Education Reform Act (MERA) of 1993 required the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to design a curriculum framework and standards to help local districts achieve their own goals. . MERA commissioned BESE to design an assessment of student learning and skills. The Tribunal did not ask the BESE to produce a standardized test, but rather found a way to collect data to support each district individually. Again, student performance is poorly captured on MCAS and not linked to long-term outcomes.
Low-income, BIPOC, and/or immigrant students have been harmed by MCAS. I share my personal experience as an IEP, ELL student at Lawrence High School as an example. I arrived in the United States in 2010, with no understanding of English, I initially focused on learning the language while completing my compulsory curriculum to ensure I passed 9th grade. In 10th grade, I was told I had to take a test called “MCAS.” I didn’t understand what it was and the extremely high expectation ahead. I was placed in a room with a dictionary and extra time since I had an IEP, but it was insufficient. I spent most of my time interpreting and reconstructing sentences to be able to answer the questions. These moments when I took a standardized test did not allow me to share my skills or my precious cultural background. Instead, MCAS crushed my dreams and created uncertainty about my future.
Many students with backgrounds and challenges similar to mine often lack the resources and support to understand standardized testing; however, we are overcoming these obstacles, succeeding and giving back to our communities. But overcoming the challenges and struggles in my life taught me that I had what it takes to succeed. Refused to let the state’s dysfunctional public school system claim or accept credit for my accomplishments. It wasn’t MCAS or DESE that gave me opportunities and paved the way. I am who I am now because people in local schools and in my community have not abandoned me. I have been supported by people who have ignored the norms and gone beyond the robotic classroom experience that BESE and DESE have imposed on our local education system.
BESE says low student achievement is a district problem. What do we say when a borough has been in sequestration for more than 12 years? Who’s to blame if DESE is in charge and MCAS scores haven’t improved? By focusing narrowly on test scores, school districts have lost the opportunity to offer a broader definition of student achievement. To hear a board member say that 3,300 kids shouldn’t make it but also say that graduation rates will improve and dropout rates won’t go up is rather alarming, and I’d like to know how they pass these judgments while preaching “there is no child left behind.” Our Tribunal needs to wake up and see the true intent of these increases. If the board decides to place a district as chronically undeformable, it must review student attendance indicators, layoff rates, expulsion rates, student promotion, and graduation rates in the district. If this does not alarm you as a tactic of the BESE to be able to continue to place the communes under receivership, I do not know what will. Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts need to realize that this is a harmful policy designed to further harm our students. Tests do not prepare children; teachers do. So why not allow them to teach and use their data like the other 39 states that do not require an exit exam in the country?
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly known as the No Child Left Behind Act, mandated research-based assessment of student achievement to assess student knowledge. Assessments designed by teachers to understand students’ material understanding are authentic, comprehensive, culturally sensitive, and can capture whole-class performance. Rather than dash hopes, we need to find a more effective way to provide students with feedback on areas of growth. When students participate in their own learning experience, the material becomes more relevant and helps teachers develop better lessons in the classroom. It’s time to empower districts to generate an honest self-assessment to promote appropriate goal setting for their district and the people they serve. However, unless we are able to abolish the MCAS graduation requirement altogether, there is a risk that the existing barrier will prevent hundreds of students from graduating within a few years. MCAS wasn’t a graduation requirement until 2003, when BESE chose to overlook all the hard work students had to endure to cross the state and say, “We did it. !” MCAS does not provide an accurate assessment of students’ academic understanding. Instead, it disproportionately impacts students with disabilities, English learners, BIPOC and low-income communities. We must remember that the pandemic has highlighted the ongoing challenges that our education system and our students were suffering in silence. The MCAS results were a complete failure in September, highlighting the inequities and lack of cultural awareness about minority groups across the state.
BESE says raising passing scores was a thoughtful, year-long process led by a transparent and diverse advisory board. However, I found no sign of such an advisory group or its members on the BESE Advisory Board website page. Such an advisory board has not been made public and you cannot see if it reflects the community.
Lawmakers must act next session to ban MCAS as a graduation requirement. BESE says it is not for the board to decide on such a requirement and that the Education Reform Act 1993 requires the board to determine the degree of expectation pupils must meet. The Education Reform Act 1993 is to be amended to prohibit the BESE from introducing MCAS as a requirement. Lawmakers, teachers, students, and parents have all voiced strong objections to the MCAS score increase. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the voices of our communities. The eight members of BESE chose not to listen to the countless families who had asked them not to engage in this predatory behavior. Every day, students earn diplomas when they enter class and progress from year to year. And having a barrier like MCAS just isn’t FAIR!
Committee member Jonathan Guzman
Deputy Chairman of the Lawrence School Committee
District F Elected Members