John Retchless, Rockland school superintendent


Yes, I believe there is too much standardized testing in Massachusetts schools. The issue has become more complex, and sometimes emotional, in recent years as the results of standardized testing have been linked not only to published school “ratings” but also to teacher evaluation.
When the Bush administration introduced the federal No Child Left Behind law in 2002, it mandated that students be tested in math and English in grades 3-8 and grade 10. In Massachusetts, MCAS expanded to meet this requirement, and science was added to the mix in grades 5, 8, and 9. This created a testing “season” in March and May of each year. The results become known to the schools over the summer and in the fall and are then published. This system has existed essentially unchanged in its basic structure for close to 15 years.

The MCAS and the alternative PARCC test that is currently being piloted seem, at their core, designed to provide statistics to the state and federal education departments. Yes, they give school districts a snapshot of one aspect of student achievement and that has some usefulness. Unfortunately, this standardized testing has fed a complex accountability system that has produced ratings of schools that are now touted in the media and are, in many ways, misunderstood by the general public. This labeling has discouraged educators, and put pressures on the curriculum that prioritize “raising scores.”
At the same time, we now have available to schools online assessments linked to the state standards that give teachers results in real time that they can use to adjust their teaching and improve student achievement. This assessment technology is a valuable tool for educators, enhancing their teaching and enabling them to give immediate feedback to students without losing valuable instructional time teaching to a standardized state test.
If we weigh the value of standardized testing to educators against the loss of teaching time, the pressure to raise scores and the inability of the tests to inform teaching in real time, it is clear that we are simply doing too much standardized testing now, to the detriment of students.


Jamie Gass, director of the Center for School Reform at Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank.
Standards-based reform has yielded some impressive results in recent decades, nowhere more than in Massachusetts. In 1993, the Commonwealth embarked on a historically successful education reform effort based on high academic standards and testing in English, mathematics, and science/engineering, as well as proposed standards and testing for US history.
Since 2005, Massachusetts has been number one in America on K-12 national testing. Since 2007, when Massachusetts competed as its own country in international math and science testing, the Commonwealth has been among the world’s highest-performing nations in 4th- and 8th-grade math and science. When the Obama administration initiated a federal grant program called Race to the Top in 2009, it could well have been called the “Race to be Massachusetts.”
The progress Massachusetts has made under education reform has been impressive, and standardized testing has been part of the success. But while our testing remains at appropriate levels, we need to be vigilant to keep it that way. Beginning under the No Child Left Behind law, and even more increasingly under Race to the Top, states are losing autonomy over their academic standards, curriculum, and testing. National standards known as Common Core and two accompanying federal testing consortia threaten to dramatically expand a nationalized testing culture. Over the next couple of years, policymakers and government officials should expect a growing anti-testing backlash as it becomes clear that nationalized standards, curriculum, and testing are out of the control of parents, teachers, school leaders, and even elected state officials.
Bay State students already excel in English, math, and science. Rather than over-testing these subjects, we should broaden the curriculum by restoring passage of a US history MCAS test as was contemplated under the 1993 law but mothballed in 2009. It is vitally important that students have a basic understanding of our democratic principles and an education that serves as the foundation for becoming informed citizens and active participants in a democracy.
Massachusetts should not backpedal on testing or MCAS. But instead of nationalized testing for every major subject at each grade level, the Commonwealth should re-commit itself to state-developed and state-controlled academic standards as the basis for locally-developed curricula and state-controlled testing.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at