Hundreds of high school students gathered in the State House Wednesday to voice their concern over standardized testing. Speakers, including teachers and elected officials, demanded changes to a test they claim is holding children back.
Stanley Pollack, director of Teen Empowerment, a non-profit organization in the Greater Boston area, called the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam an “abysmal failure” and called on the state to make broad sweeping changes to the way the test is run.
“If you’re having a meal and the meal is lousy, you don’t go and tell the chef ‘add less salt,’” he said. “You say ‘this is terrible and change it.’ Pretending everything is fine because a few test scores go up is a recipe for disaster.”
State Rep. Denise Provost, D-Somerville, spoke at the rally and agreed that changes have to be made. She said state and federal standards such as the “No Child Left Behind” act do not support education and hinder teachers. She cited the Healy School, where her daughter attends, as a good school that could face problems because, by MCAS standards, they may not reach “adequate yearly progress.” This can result in sanctions for the school including the state taking control.
“Despite the good efforts from many fine teachers, I see a lot of problems,” Provost said. “It is not acceptable. There has to be a better way to help our children achieve their dreams.”
Another major issue the demonstrators had with the MCAS was the requirement for students to pass the test in order to graduate. Many speakers believed that the MCAS should not be a make or break requirement for graduation. Greg Rego, 18, from Somerville, told the crowd that he failed the math section of the MCAS by two points.
“Eventually, having failed the MCAS and without the necessary credits to pass, I dropped out of school halfway through my senior year,” Rego said. “I am just one of many people” affected by the test.
Several high school students from around the state spoke of the differences between school funding in cities as opposed to more suburban areas in the state. Diego Medina, a high school student from Roxbury, claimed his suburban counterparts have more resources to educate themselves.
“While many students get to bring home laptops, students in the city can’t even bring home textbooks,” he said. “Why is that?”
Pollack said a major reason for the discrepancies in education funding is that education budgets are tied directly to property taxes. That policy ensures that the poorer the community, the more likely it is that the education system will be bad, he said. “It is not just about the MCAS,” he said. “Somerville has a better education system than Boston. But it does not have a better system than Arlington.”
Speakers also charged that teachers must ”teach to the test” and students spend countless hours in test preparation in order to pass. This cuts into time for classes like gym, the arts and other important classes, Pollack said.
“In Somerville, like in any other city, the MCAS narrows the curriculum,” he said. “The idea of driving education towards the test is a bad idea.”