WESTFIELD – State Rep. John C. Velis, D-Westfield, sent a letter to Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley requesting the cancellation of Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System testing for the current school year if bill H.4616 is passed in the Senate and signed by the governor.
Velis is also urging his colleagues in the Senate – and then the governor – to act quickly on this bill in order to give authority to the Commissioner and allow him to “make the right decision.”
“Students have not had anywhere near enough time to adequately prepare for these already stressful exams,” Velis stated in a press release. “They have all had varying degrees of engagement and success with their adjustment to virtual learning, and for many, the first thing they’ll need whenever they return to school is to feel a sense of normalcy again. To force a standardized test into that equation would lead to students missing out on even more time that should be used for catching up on what they’ve already lost.”
Bill H.4616, An Act to Further Address Challenges Faced by Municipalities, School Districts and State Authorities Resulting from COVID-19, was passed to be engrossed by the House on April 2. It was read and referred to the Senate Committee on Ways & Means on April 6. If passed, the bill will give the Commissioner the authority to modify or waive the MCAS tests for this school year.
MCAS is Massachusetts’ statewide standards-based assessment program for students. Testing their proficiency levels in a range of subjects such as science, mathematics, English language arts and reading comprehension.
Velis said that cancellation of the tests has the widespread support of superintendents, teachers, and many parents. “The only concern some had were graduation requirements associated with MCAS testing, but Commissioner Riley would be able to administer a waiver of that requirement alongside cancellation of the tests,” Velis said.
“I agree with John,” Westfield Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski said, adding that he’s been saying from day one of the school closure that the MCAS tests should be waived. “March is the time when a lot of staff dig into MCAS and testing strategies.”
Czaporowski said he believes some legislators still want the Commissioner to give the tests. The Next-Generation MCAS, administered by Measured Progress of Dover, NH, is under a five-year contract signed in 2016, at a cost of $30 million annually. “The money could be filtered elsewhere,” he said.
“If we don’t get back to school what would be the purpose? They won’t use the results for accountability purposes, just for informational purposes, and we have diagnostic tools to know where the kids are,” Czaporowski said.
Czaporowski said currently, schools are slated to reopen May 4, but that could get pushed to June 1, which he would support. “If we go back June 1, we’ll be lucky to have 60% attendance. Maybe it would be better, but parents will be cautious,” he said, adding, “There are parents that don’t want to send their kids back.
“If the state really wants to do it, have them do it online at home,” Czaporowski added.
According to DESE spokesperson Jacqueline Reis, it is not totally up to the Commissioner as some decisions are still in the legislature. “A bill that would give the Commissioner and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education flexibility around this year’s testing requirements is still, last I heard, in the legislature,” Reis said.
The bill passed the House and is currently under consideration in the Senate, according to Velis aide Chiara McNally.
“The MCAS requirement for graduation must be waived for this year,” Velis further stated. “Seniors, educators, and parents are under enough pressure under current circumstances.
“To get the most out of education we must put our students and teachers first,” Velis added. “This cancellation isn’t just what they want, it’s what they need.”