Meeting Organized by Policy Center at UMass Amherst Addresses MCAS Tests

AMHERST, Mass. - The results of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests, and their implications for schools, teachers and teacher preparation programs were among the issues addressed at a meeting organized by the Center for Education Policy at the University of Massachusetts, Friday, Feb. 5 in Marlborough, Mass.

The meeting, attended by about 90 people, was hosted by Bailey Jackson, dean of the School of Education at UMass. Representatives from the state department of education, which was responsible for developing the MCAS system, also participated.

The meeting was collaboratively sponsored by seven educational organizations in the commonwealth including: the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (MASS); the Massachusetts Secondary School Administrators Association (MSSAA); the Massachusetts Elementary School Principals’ Association Inc. (MESPA); the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC); the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA); the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers (MFT); and the Commonwealth Education Deans’ Council (CEDC).

The participants discussed the results of the tests, and shared ideas for helping to fine-tune the tests in the future. Laura Barrett, spokesperson for the MTA, noted: "The MCAS tests have sparked exciting conversations about what teachers and schools can do to improve student achievement. But teachers also have concerns. They don’t want this test used to hurt students or undermine support for public education."

Deans and faculty members from schools and colleges of education discussed how to help teachers and schools through professional development as well as initial preparation. Many of those present called on universities to undertake more research on the MCAS tests, especially research designed to contribute to ongoing policy deliberations.

Participants voiced appreciation for the role played by UMass in convening the meeting. Peter Finn, executive director of MASS, said, "I find it a very forward-looking effort for UMass to bring all of the educational constituents together to discuss the MCAS tests, and I hope UMass will play a leadership role to improve test results."

Jackson, who co-chairs the CEDC, emphasized the importance of the collaborative effort among educational associations: "This forum, sponsored by seven of the principal organizations concerned with advancing education reform, is an example of what it will take to turn the political rancor into positive interventions for the children of the commonwealth."

One topic stressed was the value of dialogue between teachers and superintendents, principals, and school committee members. William Dandridge, dean of Lesley College and co-chair of the CEDC, said: "This was a rare opportunity for education stakeholders to step out of their individual roles and to think collectively about our shared responsibility to the children of the commonwealth." Some participants suggested the need for an ongoing representative group of superintendents, principals, teachers, and school committee members to oversee the MCAS tests and advise the department of education.

The Center for Education Policy at UMass will deliver an extensive report on the meeting at a later date. Pat Crosson, School of Education professor and director of the center, said that she was impressed by the shared commitment to improved teaching and learning, and by the willingness of sponsors and participants to work together. She said that the center will continue its research and outreach activities, including efforts to foster dialogue about important education policy issues.