Amy Pybus: Don’t let your kids be pushed around by the MCAS test, consider opting out

Last modified: Wednesday, April 09, 2014

EASTHAMPTON — Spring is finally here, that wonderful time that brings us crocuses, baby chicks, sunshine, fresh air and of course, standardized testing.

When I got the notice from school that MCAS was approaching (“These tests are very important, have your child sleep and eat a good breakfast, our funding and teachers’ jobs depend on it, but don’t let that pressure your child”), I asked my friends if anyone was opting out.

Many of them had no idea that you could. You can, there’s even a form for it on the DOE website. Funny how that’s kept so quiet. (The form can be found at:

Of course this webpage points out that your child has to complete the 10th grade MCAS as a requirement for graduation, but I’m not opposed to that. I understand there is a time and place for standardized tests; I battled my way through them several times myself. But in my view that time and place is not third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade, and every year until graduation.

I wish I had known about opting out when my third-grader was having anxiety and panic attacks over the tests. You know what I did in third grade? Tried to remember not to pick my nose in public.

The process of getting him through the tests took many weeks of emails and phone calls between me, the teacher, the school counselor and a therapist, until we figured out “what was wrong with him.” (My kids never needed therapy before MCAS.) No one, at any point in the process, told me he could simply opt out.

For adults to put a child in a situation which causes them pain and stress, and then blame that stress on something wrong with them rather than the situation they have been forced into, is not simply wrong, but its abusive.

I hope the tide is finally turning. There is a huge movement underway by both parents and educators to stop these tests. A simple web search finds several groups working to fix a system that undermines our children’s real learning.

On Facebook you can find the national United Opt Out, a group whose website was destroyed by hackers last week, and a state-wide group fighting the “new” MCAS (Mass Parents Opt Out of PARCC Pilot Testing). Facebook also hosts Taking it Back, a highly energized local group that is leading the way to stop testing in Holyoke schools.

Some of my friends say standardized tests aren’t that big a deal and provide a good challenge for our kids, who will need to take more of them in the future. Others said not to opt out because my kids are smart and they bring our community’s scores up.

But what right do the schools have to put their well-being on the backs of my kids?

And why is a friend who is a child psychologist seeing record numbers of kids with anxiety? Why are the schools dealing with constant behavior problems and forcing quiet lunches on kids who have no outlet, because their gym, recess and even quiet study time have been eaten up by “curriculum time” (a.k.a. test prep)? But one of the most compelling arguments I heard was that whether or not your kids take the test, their entire curriculum is geared toward it. Their education has been hijacked by politics, bureaucracy and greed.

Kids are born innovators. The way they think, the way they see and interpret the world, is amazing. Every time there’s something cool going on in my child care and a parent tells me how neat it is, it’s always something the kids invented. Give a room full of kids a box of supplies and a job to do, and you will get wildly different and creative solutions.

Too often, our schools do not nurture that sense of innovation. Preparing for standardized tests doesn’t encourage it.

And at the other end of this schooling, employers often lament that they can’t find skilled workers. This is a time when success requires us to be more innovative than ever. To foster this skill, our schools need to undergo monumental changes.

Whenever I receive my kids’ MCAS scores, I throw them in the recycling bin without looking. It feels satisfying. But this year I’m going to do something different. A friend of mine writes “Return to Sender” on the envelope and pops it back in the mail. I believe this small but brilliant step is part of a quiet revolution that will lead to something better for our kids.

Amy Pybus of Easthampton writes on family life issues in a column that appears on the second Thursday of the month. She can be reached at and blogs at


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