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Testimony of Board Chair, Paul Sagan to Joint Committee on Education

Paul Sagan
Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant St.
Malden, MA 02148

June 11, 2015

The Honorable Sonia Chang-Diaz, Chair
The Honorable Alice Hanlon Peisch, Chair
The Joint Committee on Education
State House, Room 473
Boston, MA 02133

Dear Chairs and Members of the Committee,

Please accept this letter as testimony against the following three bills currently under consideration: H340: An Act relative to a moratorium on high stakes testing and PARCC; H451: An Act relative to pausing PARCC; and S294: An Act providing time to develop better measures of and assistance for student learning. I urge the Committee to carefully consider the policy framework behind the Commonwealth's achievement of our nationally renowned school system while evaluating these proposals.

Each of these bills, although seemingly different, will have the same result if passed: the dismantling of the world-leading system of public education across the Commonwealth. That system was carefully constructed by more than a generation of educators, legislators, business leaders, and other stakeholders who share a vision of educational excellence in Massachusetts, a vision that we have nurtured for more than two decades.

Measuring our children's progress since the Massachusetts Education Reform Act was passed in 1993 has been revealing. For the first time, we were transparent about school and district successes - and shortcomings - in securing strong student learning. Critically, we are using that knowledge to hold all of our students and schools accountable to the same level of expectations.

As a result, student achievement has continuously improved, graduation rates are at an historic high, drop-out rates have fallen consistently, and we are able to target support and interventions to schools in which students are not catching up or may even be falling behind. Massachusetts ranks at the top of the nation for K-12 education, and our students are prepared to compete on a global scale. Further, chronic achievement gaps are finally narrowing. A large part of this success is a direct result of our ability to set high standards for our students and educators, provide astute assessments for their use, and apply subsequent accountability in the interest of all students, their families, and the taxpayers.

As the Chairman of The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), I have had the privilege to hear from scores of educators this year at special forums we are holding across the state. These educators have first-hand knowledge of the assessments we have been employing and new assessments we are considering as substitutes if we conclude they will do an even better job. These in-the-trenches experts from Massachusetts, from communities spread across the state, agree that assessments, when used correctly and efficiently, are a decisive tool for determining effective education in the Commonwealth.

Our goal is not to expend time that could be better used for instruction by pre-empting it with unnecessary test taking. Rather, we seek only to ensure that educators across the Commonwealth have the reliable and comparable assessment information they need to inform the instruction they are providing in their schools.

Further, I believe it is important to address a related issue that has been raised in support of some of the legislation before you. There is a serious misconception among some constituents that we have created a regime where teachers spend too much time preparing students to take our state assessments and then administering these tests. This past winter, in response to anecdotal reports about excessive time spent testing and preparing for state assessments, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education commissioned a study of district practices. Almost half of the districts in Massachusetts (43 percent) reported that they spend less than two (2) days per year, while another 40 percent reported spending only between three (3) and five (5) days per year, on preparation for the state assessments. Notably, more than eight (8) in ten (10) educators surveyed (84 percent) told us they are using the state assessments to measure whether students have met specific and critical learning goals.

Ensuring equal access to a strong education for all of the Commonwealth's students has been our unwavering objective since 1993. The accountability system that accompanied state funding to school districts created a necessary transparency to guarantee our students make continued progress, and that system is working. I urge you to be very careful as you consider any steps that would seriously undermine it. To do so would be to cheat our students and their families out of the accountability they expect and the educational opportunities they demand.

I look forward to working with you during this session and continuing forward on issues that positively impact our Commonwealth's students, particularly our most disadvantaged students. Our studies show, and the testimony we hear supports, that our assessment and accountability system is making a positive impact now more than ever before. Thank you for your time and attention.


Paul Sagan, Chairman
Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Last Updated: October 3, 2014
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