Fifty-two Cambridge educators and a teacher from Hull are refusing to administer the state-mandated MCAS tests and are calling themselves “conscientious objectors” in protest of what they say is an added layer of stress during the pandemic.
A group of about a dozen educator advocates, union members, family and friends joined Deb McCarthy, a 5th grade teacher, outside the Lillian M. Jacob School in Hull to support her decision not to proctor the test.
“I’ve asked to be a conscientious objector because it was clear to me that these tests were causing undue harm,” said the 61-year old McCarthy, who made the decision despite facing sanctions. McCarthy said she sent a letter two weeks ago to administrators expressing her concerns and after refusing to give the test today, she was sent home on administrative leave.
The superintendent of Hull Public Schools did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Dan Monahan, president of the Cambridge Education Association, which represents 1,500 teachers, administrators, clerks, substitutes, and paraprofessionals in Cambridge Public Schools, said it doesn’t make any sense to give the assessment this year. Monahan cites lack of learning time and “ historic racism” surrounding implementation of the test.
It's "a really good test to figure out kids race and income, literally you can sort of draw that connection, “ Monahan said. “And that’s not what we should be testing.”
Some of the 53 educators have chosen to take contractual leave rather than proctor MCAS tests. Families have the right to opt their children out of MCAS testing, which will continue to be administered through June 11.
Kenneth N. Salim, superintendent of Cambridge Public Schools, said he disagreed with the federal- and state-level decisions to move forward with the MCAS this spring, but when the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education made the decision to go forward with it, Cambridge had to comply with the law.
Salim said testing is underway at CPS schools and “that any educators who fail to fulfill their duties may be subject to disciplinary consequences.”
Education advocates have long criticized the MCAS as a measure of student performance.
Lisa Guisbond, executive director of Citizens for Public Schools, a statewide public education advocacy organization founded in 1982, said they’ve been actively advocating for years to revamp the assessment. Her organization wants to move away from high stakes uses of MCAS, such as making passing the test a high school graduation requirement.
“The idea that giving the test would shine a light on achievement gaps and allow schools and educators to close those gaps, that hasn't come to pass,” she said. "The system just ends up punishing our most vulnerable students, especially students with disabilities, English language learners, low income students.”
Guisbond said it’s in the best interest of the students’ social and emotional health not to administer the MCAS this year with the trauma of the pandemic.
McCarthy has been teaching in Hull for 25 years. She sent four children through the Hull school system and has two grandchildren in the schools. McCarthy’s 86-year old mother had a 50-year teaching career in Hull and attended the standout holding a sign that said, “Don’t discipline Deb.” McCarthy is scheduled to offer the science MCAS test to students June 3, and it’s unclear if she’ll be sent home again.
“I’ve had my best year teaching and I love what I do,” McCarthy said, “ but MCAS is a test that weaponizes race and class.”