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By Katie Lannan

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, SEPT. 12, 2017....The state's standardized testing program, which has held up despite years of criticism, was in the crosshairs again on Tuesday as lawmakers heard testimony on bills that would temporarily halt the use of test scores in teacher evaluations and as graduation requirements.

Supporters and opponents offered their takes on bills sponsored by Sen. Michael Rush (S 308) and Rep. Marjorie Decker (H 2844) that would place a three-year moratorium on what critics call the "high stakes" nature of standardized tests. Backers said the pause would allow Massachusetts to reconsider its approach to testing and develop a better method of assessing students.

"I want to hold policymakers accountable for the 11 days of high-stakes testing that my students in fifth grade endure, for the six weeks that we stop teaching because our school becomes a warehouse for testing," Hull teacher Deb McCarthy told the committee. "And I want somebody to be held accountable for all the students on [individualized education programs] who are not serviced so that our special education personnel can be deployed to proctor a test."

Sen. Michael Rush held a briefing in May with Massachusetts Teachers Association President Barbara Madeloni (left) about his public education reform bill. [Photo: Sam Doran/File/SHNS]

Massachusetts has required students to pass the MCAS test in order to graduate high school since 2003, a move that Louis Kruger of Northeastern University's school psychology program said resulted in "disproportionate denial of diplomas" to students with disabilities and English language learners.

"My question is this, why are we continuing to almost exclusively punish our most vulnerable students through the high-stakes exam?" he said.

The Massachusetts Business Alliance of Education argued against a moratorium, saying the tests measure if students can "apply their learning to solve real world problems." Joseph Esposito and David Mancuso, members of the alliance's board, asked in written testimony what a diploma would mean without a requirement that students demonstrate mastery of skills.

"And, more importantly, what kind of future will a student who fails to demonstrate that mastery face?" their testimony said.

The alliance and 25 other business groups, including the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and Retailers Association of Massachusetts, signed on to a statement opposing the Rush and Decker bills.

"The education reforms that Massachusetts adopted in 1993 and in subsequent years have catapulted the state to number one in the nation in student achievement," the statement said. "Any rollback of these measures would be a grave mistake that would set our students, particularly our most vulnerable, and our schools back."

The moratorium is among several components in Rush's bill, which would also reform the state's school funding formula to steer more money to local districts and mandate a daily 20-minute recess of "free play" in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Rush, a West Roxbury Democrat, said the bill seeks to address concerns of teachers, parents and students. Despite the support of 106 cosponsors -- more than half the Legislature -- Rush said he was "very keenly aware" that the bill "will not fly through the process."

He told the committee he hoped elements of the bill could be included in future legislation.

Massachusetts is in the process of transitioning to a hybrid standardized test that blends elements of the MCAS with a test known as PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers).


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