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Brookline TAB
Brookline, Massachusetts

Schools Hide MCAS Opt-out Policy

Dennis Fox

April 25, 2002


I don't know how many other Brookline parents refused to let their third-graders take the MCAS test three weeks ago. While most of her classmates sat through the annual state-mandated educational abomination, our daughter spent the three 45-minute test sessions in a different room, hanging out with newly arrived immigrant kids whose shaky English skills kept them test-free. The 8-year old survived her exclusion with good humor intact.

Unfortunately, most Brookline parents don't know they can opt out of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. Maybe that's because our School Committee doesn't want them to know.

The letter my daughter brought home from school the week before the test said that "since these tests are required by the State Department of Education, children must make up any tests they miss due to absences." It added: "Virtually no students are exempted from the MCAS" except for some in English as a Second Language and bilingual programs.

That seems pretty clear cut: Take the test now or take it later.

But here in Brookline it's just not true.

Brookline's School Committee and administrators generally have the good sense to resent and oppose MCAS. That's why, in keeping with standard Brookline policy, parents can simply notify the principal in writing that their child is not allowed to take the test. When the test is given, the child does something else.

This informal policy works for parents who understand the game, but it hides the truth from the majority who believe the official line. Because the goal should be ending MCAS for everyone, not simply allowing parents in the know to bypass it, we should adopt the system some Cambridge schools use: parents return a form indicating if their child will, or won't, take the exam.

It is true that the nine Brookline High School students who boycotted their test two weeks ago may not get a state-approved diploma. Fortunately, that might not really hurt them, because many colleges admit students without a diploma if they meet other requirements. So although Brookline should adopt the Hampshire School Committee's plan to issue a town diploma to all who meet non-MCAS graduation requirements, it's good to know boycotters can still get on with their lives even if the local-diploma strategy doesn't pan out.

In the lower grades, of course, boycotting MCAS brings no penalties, despite the ominous letters. At least in Brookline, failure to take the test does not affect grades. It does not affect promotion. And it does not, or should not, make students feel they're doing something wrong -- especially since so many teachers and administrators secretly sympathize with test boycotters.

As the May testing period draws near, remember that you can opt out of MCAS for any reason:

  • you believe your child will undergo unnecessary stress;
  • you believe the test is a waste of time and provides no information useful for your child's education;
  • you believe that although your child will do fine on the test and may even enjoy it, externally imposed MCAS pressures damage Brookline's schools;
  • you believe the current MCAS scheme is really designed to meet corporate needs rather than human needs;
  • you believe MCAS is a politically inspired ploy to divert attention from the state's lack of truly equitable education.

Whatever your reason, just give the principal a note asking for an alternative assignment during the test. You don't even need to give a reason.

Understandably, many parents are wary of pulling their child out of a test that others take. But the more parents do this, the more the pulled-out children will feel they are part of a larger movement. That in itself is more educational than sitting through a flawed test.

Brookline's teachers and administrators may feel obligated to give a test that many of them believe to be educationally useless and even harmful.

But students don't have to take it, and parents don't have to subject their children to it.

If your child's teacher or principal tells you something different, please let me know. And tell the School Committee, too. Maybe they'll finally bring their de facto policy out into the open.

More on opposition to MCAS

Note: this version may differ from the published version.

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