ATTLEBORO — State Rep. Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro recently filed legislation to create a three-year moratorium on the administration of the MCAS exam because of educational disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is nonsensical to force schools to plan for MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) with all the uncertainty around the pandemic,” he said in a press release.
In addition, Hawkins disparaged the effectiveness of the test and said the state should develop a new assessment system.
“(MCAS) is not and has never been an accurate or fair measurement of student, educator or district progress,” he said.
The exam was canceled this year because schools had to establish “distance learning” on the fly in March in an effort to stem the spread of the virus.
Hawkins said the $33 million paid to test companies should be used instead to prevent teacher layoffs or sent “to low-income communities and communities of color who… have suffered so disproportionately during the pandemic.”
“As the Commonwealth of Massachusetts plans for the 2020-2021 school year and beyond, it is critically important to prioritize student development, well-being and learning and to minimize activities that add undue stress,” Hawkins, a former teacher, said.
He said the bill would also establish a moratorium “on using any standardized tests to make high-stakes decisions about students, educators, schools, and districts.”
In addition, the bill requests a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education from federal requirements for statewide assessment, accountability and reporting.
Hawkins said the bill would also establish a commission to develop recommendations for the state’s “next generation of student and school assessment systems.”
The bill would allow districts to apply for state grants to explore and develop those systems.
During the three-year moratorium, districts would be required to submit diagnostic data on student learning progress to the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Attleboro school Supt. David Sawyer issued the following statement in response to the proposed moratorium.
“I appreciate Representative Hawkins’ advocacy for our students and the funding required to appropriately educate them. However, APS believes strongly that high-quality teaching is founded on the instructional decisions educators make informed by good assessment data,” he said. “We continue to improve our ability as a district to accomplish this on a classroom level and aspire to a future in which high-stakes testing is no longer needed to ensure accountability. While we agree that testing is an added pressure to an already difficult set of circumstances, we are always ready to meet the expectations set by the state and are confident that if we are successful in our mission, the testing takes care of itself.”
Meanwhile, North Attleboro Superintendent Scott Holcomb said the legislation may be the way to go.
“In light of the uncertainty surrounding returning to school this fall, a moratorium for next year may be best for Massachusetts public schools,” he said in an emailed statement.