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O’Shea speaks out against high stakes testing

Date: 6/25/2015

WILBRAHAM – Superintendent of Schools M. Martin O’Shea recently addressed the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate Joint Committee on Education, expressing his concerns regarding the current state of high stakes standardized testing throughout the Commonwealth.

“While I believe that appropriate standardized testing can provide an important measurement of district, school, and individual student achievement and growth, I believe that the emphasis Massachusetts places on standardized testing narrows the curriculum, compromises instruction and ultimately creates an educational environment that places more value on test scores than genuine learning,” O’Shea stated in his speech to the joint committee.

In his speech addressed on June 10, O’Shea stated that he encourages favorable action bills related to standardized testing in the House of Representatives and Senate respectively.

The bill in the House of Representatives, H340, seeks to assemble a task force at the state level to investigate the current status of high stake testing in Massachusetts, according to the state legislature’s website.

However, O’Shea told Reminder Publications his speech to the Joint Committee on Education was less about the bills and more about an opportunity to address his district’s concerns with education at the state level.

He added that when he began teaching in the 1980s there was “little accountability” and “little alignment” of a standard curriculum throughout the state and now the “pendulum has swung too far” in the opposite direction.

O’Shea said the state needs to find a balance that puts “teaching and learning first” with less testing and helps districts understand whether schools or districts are making progress.

He also strongly encouraged the joint committee to de-link standardized testing and teacher evaluation, develop an assessment system that shortens the time required for individual tests, and to ensure that results of a new assessment, such as the Partnership of Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), not be used to calculate school and district accountability ratings until after a three-year pilot period.

“Assessments shouldn’t crowd out teaching and learning,” he noted. “My view, I think there are too many tests and students are tested too frequently and maybe they don’t have to be tested on an annual basis.”

Other examples he cited to the joint committee included ensuring that educators have adequate time and resources to respond to the curricular and instructional shifts of a new assessment system and to ensure that schools have the proper technological infrastructure to implement state tests.

“Hopefully on some level I’m representing the needs and interests of students in this district and the concerns of educators in this district,” O’Shea noted.

Ludlow Superintendent of Schools Todd Gazda also submitted his testimony to the state, O’Shea said. O’Shea said this is a statewide issue and he suspects superintendents throughout the Commonwealth have also voiced their concerns.

The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District (HWRSD) is also part of the Western Massachusetts Educational Leaders Coalition (WMELC), which also includes the Longmeadow and East Longmeadow public school districts.

The WMELC developed a position statement that was signed by superintendents, School Committee chairs and Teachers’ Union presidents from 15 school districts in the Pioneer Valley.

The group addressed its concerns regarding PARCC, stating, “The exam represents a costly departure from MCAS that is being implemented without adequate funding and technology; without enough involvement from Massachusetts educators, and ahead of districts’ capacity to implement new curriculum standards. The coalition is not convinced that the new exam’s questions are appropriately constructed and properly aligned with new standards.”

The Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents has also issued a position paper regarding this issue, which echoes thoughts raised by O’Shea and the WMELC.

O’Shea said despite his criticism of the current status of standardized testing; he believes the Common Core state standards curriculum to be beneficial overall.

He added that he is unconcerned with standardized tests as a graduation because HWRSD students “far exceed” the expectations of the tenth grade MCAS test by the time of graduation.