Push against high-stakes testing
is gaining traction in communities
By Laura Barrett
S haron High School biology teacher Zach Snow is on a mission to support public schools that excite students about learning. To him,
that means reducing the emphasis on standardized
tests and restoring play, exploration, creativity
and a whole range of content-rich subjects to the
curriculum, especially in the early grades.
“Education is rapidly becoming a $1 trillion
industry,” Snow said in testimony to the Sharon
School Committee last June. “Yet public schools
are not the schools that billionaires are sending their
kids to. They send their kids to schools with low
class sizes, schools with teachers who write their
own tests, schools with diverse, enriching curricula,
field trips and recess — schools that we deserve in
Sharon! — not to schools that are beholden to these
Snow is just one of many MTA members
pushing back against high-stakes testing and finding
a lot of common ground with administrators, parents
and students. A PDK/Gallup poll released in August
found that 67 percent of public school parents agreed
that there is “too much emphasis on standardized
testing in the public schools” in their communities.
Only 8 percent said there is “not enough,” while 20
percent said the amount is “about right.” Five percent
said they didn’t know.
The numbers are even more striking among
educators. In a poll of MTA members in January, 86
percent said there is “too much” emphasis on such
tests, while only 1 percent said there is “not enough.”
Now the struggle is to get policies to mirror
what most parents and educators want: less testing,
more learning. Local efforts to that end have been
sprouting up across the state and country.
I n Fall River, the local association persuaded the School Committee in January to join other school committees by passing a resolution in
support of an MTA-backed bill calling for a three-year moratorium on high-stakes testing.
In Westborough, the local association and
administration are doing as little as legally possible
to implement District-Determined Measures created
for the purpose of evaluating educators.
In Cambridge, the local association urged the
School Committee to reject switching to PARCC
tests this year, knowing that would mean subjecting
students to three different tests in three years:
MCAS, PARCC and MCAS 2.0. The association
lost by one vote but continues to make the case that
students are more than a score.
In Franklin, the local association pushed back
against Teaching Strategies GOLD and successfully
reduced how much time teachers must spend on this
kindergarten assessment. Now, local association
President Donna Grady is planning to opt her own
children out of any tests that she doesn’t believe will
benefit them directly.
In New York State, 240,000 students opted out
of standardized tests last year. The opt-out movement
is going strong in other states as well, and some
would like to see it take off in Massachusetts.
Snow’s efforts in Sharon are a good example of
organizing to broaden the conversation about testing.
His involvement began when his oldest child entered
kindergarten last year.
“It felt like the pressure to do well on tests had
trickled down to kindergarten,” Snow said. The
curriculum, he said, “was a lot more didactic than I
had expected. And there was a large focus on drilling
math and sight words at the expense of learning
about science and social studies. As for experiential
learning through play and socialization, it seemed to
reflect the recent studies suggesting that kindergarten
is the new first grade.
“Obviously, I want my kids to read and do
math,” Snow continued, “but it all seemed so
disconnected from content.”
Snow started reading about the issue and talking
to other parents.
“I would talk to parents at soccer games and
birthday parties,” he said. “I was ‘that guy’ at the
party who would ask other parents about their own
kids’ experiences in school. Almost everyone I talked
to said, ‘Yeah, tell me about it.’ And I thought that,
well, if everyone agrees, why are we doing education
The focus on testing was relatively new to Snow
since he teaches high school biology, which is not an
MCAS-tested subject in Sharon; most students take
the introductory physics test to fulfill the graduation
“I have a huge amount of freedom to teach the
way I believe is best,” Snow said.
Snow started a Facebook group called Sharon
Parents & Teachers for Less Testing & More
Learning, and in June, he and his group asked the
School Committee to support the moratorium bill
and engage in a larger discussion about the role of
While the Sharon School Committee declined
to pass a resolution backing the moratorium bill, the
members did ask the state to delay using PARCC
results to make high-stakes decisions. They also
formed an advisory committee of teachers, parents
and administrators to analyze the role of testing in
the district and to make recommendations on how to
strike a better balance.
Several teacher-members of the advisory
committee and Bernadette Murphy, president of the
Sharon Teachers Association, gathered at Sharon
High School in December to share their perspectives.
The views they expressed are similar to the ones
Continued on next page
Sharon teachers Dorothy Macoritto, Lori Leveckis and Kathleen Turner, from left to right,
gathered recently at Sharon High School to share their perspectives on high-stakes testing.
Photo by Chris Christo