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Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee blasts standardized tests in letter to Legislature



Wednesday, June 10, 2015
AMHERST — The Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee on Tuesday took a stand against standardized tests.

It also praised plans for schedule changes at both the high school and middle school, which were presented during Tuesday’s meeting.

The board voted unanimously to send a letter favoring a moratorium on high-stakes testing in general and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test in particular to the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Education. On Thursday, the committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on House Bill 340, which would remove the requirement that a student must pass a standardized test to graduate and would place a three-year ban on using the PARCC test.

“Multiple studies have demonstrated that high-stakes testing does not improve schools and their ability to educate all our students,” reads the letter, which was written by School Committee member Katherine Appy of Amherst. “The tests measure a narrow set of practiced skills that lack depth and a demonstration of ongoing curricular learning.”

The letter goes on to say that high-stakes testing punishes the schools and students who most need varied forms of teaching and approaches, and that those tests foster anxiety and negative competition among students, schools and teachers.

Appy also wrote that high-stakes testing should not be used in the evaluation of teacher effectiveness, as that practice is “unfair and inaccurate.”

School Committee Chairman Trevor Baptiste of Pelham suggested the letter should cite the sources of the “multiple studies” mentioned and also state what the board believes should replace the tests.

Member Rick Hood of Amherst said he agreed with such edits but also said time was critical in approving the letter so it could be delivered by Thursday’s hearing.

“I think there are certain things that could be improved, but I think it is more important we get it signed,” he said before making a motion to approve the letter.

Appy said she hopes this is the first of many letters on the topic of high-stakes testing and PARCC in particular that the School Committee would send to the Joint Committee on Education.

Jean Fay, president of the Amherst-Pelham Education Association, thanked the committee for its unanimous vote. She also referred to a video on the Massachusetts Teachers Association Facebook page featuring Amherst elementary school teacher Alice Goodwin Brown speaking against high-stakes tests.

“We need to do something on this now,” Fay said Tuesday. “I see the pendulum swinging back the right way.”

Schedule changes

School Committee members also heard presentations about schedule changes at the middle and high schools.

High School Assistant Principal Michael Thompson told committee members that administrators plan to move from a trimester schedule with five classes that meet every day to a semester schedule with six classes per day. The change is planned for the 2016-2017 school year.

Students would take a total of seven classes and each would meet six times on a rotating seven-day schedule.

School Committee member Kip Fonsh of Leverett said the change was “long overdue.”

“The gains in terms of relationships, pace of instruction and overall positive atmosphere for instruction is so clear and evident,” he said.

Fonsh said he is concerned about additional homework. Thompson said teachers will work over the next year on ways to assign manageable amounts of homework to students under the new schedule.

Middle School Principal Marisa Mendonsa updated committee members about the schedule changes at the middle school, which will take place in September.

The changes include increasing time for core classes of math, English, science and social studies, requiring music for all students and expanding co-teaching with subject and special education teachers in math, social studies and English classes.

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at deisen@gazettenet.com.