Students unprepared for MCAS amid coronavirus pandemic changes

You wouldn’t take a fitness test in the throes of the flu, but officials are still proposing the state’s students take the MCAs tests while struggling with an education system hobbled by the coronavirus.
To say that the Massachusetts school year has been disrupted is an understatement. Some schools are fully remote, some offer hybrids of in-school and remote learning, and other districts have reopened, then closed again as coronavirus cases have spiked.
Of course, remote learning isn’t equal. Some students can’t afford laptops, or have poor WiFi connectivity, while others are part of educational “pods” led by teachers, parents or tutors.
And some parents have ditched public schools altogether. As the Herald reported, enrollment in Massachusetts public schools this year has dropped by more than 37,000 students.
Last spring, education officials got a federal waiver and legislative authorization to cancel the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests as coronavirus cases started to spike. We’re now in another surge, and students are still navigating home learning, hybrid classes and/or inadequate resources.
Yet, as reported by the State House News Service, Massachusetts officials are mulling some MCAS tests in a take-home format in the spring and are looking into options for exams scheduled for this winter, according to Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley.
Education officials have described the test as an important tool for gauging the pandemic’s effects on student learning.
We think it’s safe to assume that the coronavirus and its subsequent disruption of the school year has not been a boost for students.
Riley said the department is looking at the possibility of some take-home exams in the spring, which he said “might — I want to stress ‘might’ — be available in certain limited cases.”
Let’s say the state goes forward with administering the MCAS, and, as one can assume, it’s determined that the pandemic has had a deleterious effect on education. What then?
The opening or closing of schools has been dependent on coronavirus cases in their respective communities — would MCAS scores change that criteria?
There was a public comment period, during which Christine Spelman, a graduation coach at Springfield High School of Science and Technology, said the testing schedule poses “a logistical nightmare for schools that have been fully remote.”
Spelman said her school does not know when it will resume in-person instruction, and is struggling to connect with students who are working full-time to support their families, caring for younger siblings, dealing with mental health issues, or struggling with homelessness and food insecurity.
She asked that the department try to seek a waiver in January, once President-elect Joe Biden’s administration is in office, or postpone testing until all schools have been able to bring students back to the classroom.
“Please do not add more stress and inequity to our urban districts,” she said.
The MCAS are an important diagnostic tool, but the way the pandemic has upended learning across the state and highlighted inequities in resources hardly leaves students as prepared as they were in previous years. One cannot expect them to be.

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