R ising frustration with the negative impact of high-stakes testing on teaching and learning in Massachusetts is driving a growing
number of MTA members and parents to explore ways
of resisting the excessive focus on standardized tests.
By early January, about 40 teachers had told
the MTA that they planned to opt their own children
out of testing this spring, and more were expected
to participate after a meeting scheduled for early
“The MTA and NEA’s Center for Organizing are
working together to bring testing resistance strategies
to locals in Massachusetts and around the country,”
said MTA President Barbara Madeloni. “We will be
organizing to resist high-stakes testing at the local
district level as well as at the state level.”
One educator, Deborah McCarthy from Hull, is
exploring becoming a high-stakes test “conscientious
objector.” She plans to ask to be reassigned during
the 2017 testing period so that she doesn’t have
to administer the PARCC-based Next Gen MCAS
exams to her fifth-graders.
“I believe that administering these tests is
causing emotional harm to my students,” she said.
“I’ve had kids get sick, throw up and shut down. I
know of kids who don’t feel as if they’re as smart as
other kids in their classroom and then we reinforce
that message by labeling them underperforming.
I just feel that the time has come to not expect
parents and students to shoulder the whole burden
McCarthy, a 21-year teacher and president of the
Hull Teachers Association, has been an outspoken
critic of overtesting for several years. Her actions
include co-hosting a forum in Hingham, providing
information about high-stakes testing to parents in
Scituate, and participating in the Less Testing, More
Several forces have come together to motivate
her to take a stronger stand.
She is deeply concerned about the switch to the
new PARCC-based testing regimen because it takes
more time and resources without providing her with
any useful information.
“PARCC is a nebulous beast,” McCarthy said.
“Not once have I been given any data from the
PARCC test that helps me instructionally, that makes
me a better teacher. Yet we will be spending many
days on testing, taking time away from teaching and
Although tests are not administered for an
entire day, she said, all of her, her colleagues’ and
her students’ schedules are “flipped upside down”
on days when high-stakes tests are given. She is
particularly concerned that special education teachers
are pulled away from meeting the requirements of
their students’ Individual Education Plans in order to
administer the tests.
Then came Question 2, which sought to
drastically expand the number of charter schools.
“Without Question 2, I don’t think I’d be
doing this,” McCarthy said. As she canvassed and
phone banked and talked to others about the state’s
two-tiered education system, she grew increasingly
aware of the role that test scores have played in
exacerbating that problem. Charter schools, she said,
are offered as a solution to low test scores, but fail
to deal with the underlying problems of poverty and
inadequate school resources.
A third motivator was spending two weeks
teaching about civil rights leading up to the birthday
of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Our students learn so much about people who
risked a lot to fight segregation,” she said. “It had
me thinking. I’ve been suggesting to parents in other
communities that they take a stand and opt their kids
out of testing, but I’m not putting myself on the line.
I can’t in good faith participate in something I do not
find educationally worthy.”
In January, McCarthy still hadn’t figured out
how far she was going to push her request to opt
out of administering the test, but she said her efforts
would be more powerful if teachers in other districts
did the same. She has asked the MTA to research
how “conscientious objector” actions played out on
Long Island, where a huge percentage of students
have refused to take the state tests and some teachers
have refused to administer them.
Other members are putting their beliefs into
action by talking to their own children about opting
out of testing.
B ob Erlandsen, who organized the Hingham forum with McCarthy, teaches eighth-grade science in Cohasset. He is planning to opt his
seventh-grade son out of testing as a form of protest.
“My son is very successful, a high scorer,” he
said. “This is less about him and more about what
these tests are doing to students who see themselves
Erlandsen said that the tests provide “a one-time
look at one specific aspect of my students’ abilities.”
“I could see that there were students who were
doing well on the test, but they had done nothing
in my class all year,” he said, “whereas I had other
kids who didn’t do so well on the test who were so
anxious when they took it, but in class they paid
attention, were persistent and worked hard. The test
was not measuring their true worth.
“I’m mostly concerned about the special ed
population,” Erlandsen continued. “So many of these
kids have amazing talents in others areas, but year
after year they are being told how dumb they are
because of the tests. I see some of them giving up.
It’s reinforced when you hear administrators say,
‘Our students did really well, except the special ed
subgroup. They’re holding us back again.’ It’s really
Erlandsen is also concerned about how much
instructional time is lost to testing. “We lose a good
week and a half of instructional time to do test prep,”
In 2015, he helped organize a forum in Kingston
for about 25 parents, teachers and administrators
about the schools they wanted to have for their
“One of the main results to come out was that
everyone supported less testing,” he said. “They
want students doing more arts activities and spending
less time on test prep.”
K arin Baker and Raymond Paquette are two other MTA members who are planning to opt their fourth-grader out of testing this
spring. Baker works in a special needs high school
program in Amherst and Paquette teaches math at
Gateway Regional High School.
“I don’t find the math MCAS itself a big
problem; it’s the way these tests are used to classify
students, schools and teachers that I don’t like,” said
Paquette. “We also lose an enormous amount of time
He added that the long delay between when the
tests are administered and when the results come
back reduces the utility of the test.
“Long after it stops mattering to you as a
student, you find out what the score is,” he said.
Baker said she is in a “double bubble” since
Amherst doesn’t focus heavily on standardized tests
in general and her special needs program minimizes
them even more.
“My reasons for supporting opting out have
to do with the fact that the whole testing system is
being used as a system of control,” Baker said. “It’s
used for privatization and charterization. It becomes
an instrument for attacking schools and public
employees and the unions.
“Also,” she added, “the testing industry is a lot
about making money off of education.”
For more information on opting out of testing,
go to www.massteacher.org/optout. For more
information about being a testing “conscientious
objector,” send Deborah McCarthy an e-mail at
Deborah McCarthy, a longtime activist who
teaches in Hull, is exploring becoming a
high-stakes test “conscientious objector.”
Photo by Laura Barrett