The School Committee, after a lengthy discussion, agreed this week to back a resolution in favor of exempting students across the state, including those enrolled in the Hull Public Schools, from Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) testing for the current school year.
The committee took a vote, at the request of the Hull Teachers Association, in support of a Massachusetts Teachers Association initiative encouraging local teachers’ unions to request that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education press the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver from the MCAS exam and ACCESS test for all students during the current academic year. The federal agency will make the final decision. (The ACCESS test assesses students’ comprehension and communication in English.)
School Committee Chairwoman Jennifer Fleming was the only member who did not support requesting the waiver.
While acknowledging that “this has been a crazy year,” Fleming said she would rather have the state make its own decision about whether or not to advocate for the waiver through the U.S. Department of Education. “It could hurt us in the long run [if the state doesn’t decide to request the waiver]. I don’t want to vote against MCAS, even [amid] COVID-19 challenges.”
Committee member Stephanie Peters expressed a different view. “It would be insane to do this testing after the kind of year our students went through,” she said. “I’m a believer in testing” but not under the current circumstances.
Fellow member David Twombly agreed. “There will be such a short window for in-person learning [during the remainder of the school year] that I feel efforts should be put toward meeting our students’ social-emotional needs rather than preparing for tests,” which is cited as one of the reasons behind the nonbinding resolution.
In part, the resolution states that the COVID-19 crisis has placed students across the state in “unfamiliar, uncertain, and unsafe environments” and that they are struggling to keep pace with an amended curriculum plan implemented for the 2019-2020 school year and continuing in the current academic year.
The focus should be on learning, and on helping students achieve social-emotional wellness, the resolution states. “The district is better served measuring student learning loss during the pandemic through the use of formative and benchmark diagnostic assessments, whereas MCAS and ACCESS results arrive too late to allow for any effective diagnostic intervention planning to be done for students,” according to the resolution.
School Superintendent Judith Kuehn noted that if Hull students end up taking the test, they will be held harmless, regardless of how they score. However, the results would still be published by the state.
According to Kuehn, the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents supports the resolution.
Jacobs School Principal Christine Cappadona, who hopes the tests are canceled, said that the new Galileo assessment system for grades one through eight is a helpful tool to gauge students’ academic progress.
“If [Jacobs] students took the MCAS, I think they would be where they should be, but they are still catching up with the loss of learning, even though they have been in school four days a week since September,” Cappadona said. “We’re still closing a gap in the learning that did not occur last year.”
It was noted that supporting the resolution does not mean that Hull students will be exempted from the MCAS exam if the state and federal governments do not waive the requirement.
HTA Co-President Brian Mullin participated in Monday’s remote meeting. “I’m a big fan of testing [overall], although not MCAS,” he said before the committee voted on the resolution. “I think in general teachers have a lot of complaints about this test.”
Mullin went on to say that the time students and teachers would lose if the MCAS exam is administered this year would be better spent in other ways. “It seems pretty irrational to have MCAS this year,” he said. “I don’t know about other South Shore towns, but tons of communities have signed onto the resolution already.”
Mullin added that multiple school districts “pushing back” in favor of the waiver could have a positive impact on the ultimate decision.
School Committee member Ernest Minelli said he is in favor of “maximizing time for teachers and students” and believes that Hull Public Schools could benefit from creating their own district-specific metrics for gauging how students are faring academically, especially in light of the pandemic, “so we can feel good about where we are going next year.”