by Bella Ishanyan & Ellie Jolly, News Editor, News Reporter
photo by Maureen Caulfield
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has mandated that all school districts in the state must administer the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) this year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruption of the school year.
Most South courses revised their curriculums to compensate for the delayed start to the school year, the new schedule and anticipated transitions between learning models, resulting in a decrease in content coverage. This year the MCAS will not only fulfill its purpose of analyzing students’ understanding of concepts in core curriculums such as math, English and science, but will also be used to measure the effect of curriculum cuts on students.
Faye Cassell, South’s MCAS Coordinator, said that testing this year is crucial to determine next year’s classroom material.
“It will help us see if there are specific demographics of students who potentially have suffered greater learning loss and how can we support them next year,” she said.
South is moving forward with preparations for the test, which will only be available in person. The English Language Arts (ELA) portion of MCAS is scheduled to take place on May 3, 4, 6 and 7, while the math MCAS is scheduled for May 10, 11, 13 and 14. The ninth-grade Physics MCAS test is projected to take place in early June.
All current sophomores and juniors were to be required to take the 10th grade English and Math tests as a requirement for graduation, however on April 1, State Education Commissioner Jeffrey Reilly announced that he was recommending waiving the requirement for juniors.
This new shift in the MCAS schedule is expected to be approved by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) later this month.
Freshmen students can opt-out of MCAS. Junior Zach Meurer said that the flexibility towards the MCAS should be extended to upperclassmen.
“[The board] should consider people who have conflicts or other testing and make it optional or just have more sympathy for those people and let them reschedule the test,” he said.
To accommodate for the discrepancies in course curriculums compared to prior years, BESE has made adjustments to this year’s tests.
“The MCAS is not going to cover as much material, so it will be changed to reflect the pandemic,” Superintendent David Fleishman said.
Interim Vice Principal Christopher Hardiman said that South will work to accommodate remote learners.
“The school is looking into getting buses to pick up [remote] students midway through the day [after testing] to bring them [home] to complete the rest of the school day,” he said.
After receiving information about exams, freshman Taban Malihi said that she was confused regarding the decision to implement MCAS testing this year.
“I don’t know what spurred them to suddenly reinstate it,” she said. “I was surprised because I know many schools have been hit very hard by COVID-19 and South has been good at handling it, but when it comes to equity and stuff like that, the standardized testing system is a bit tone-deaf.”
Physics teacher Derek van Beever said that the decision was a surprise for faculty as well.
“I’m still kind of shocked that they’re trying to do it. I feel like going into the year that was not the original case,” he said.
English teacher Kelsey Dornbrook said that she was upset with the state’s decision to reinstate the test.
“I was disappointed for quite a lot of reasons. I haven’t supported standardized testing in the past,” she said. “Especially in the year of the pandemic, I was really disappointed to see the state was pushing for it.”
Despite his opposition to the test, Meurer said he understood the reasoning behind the decision to continue the MCAS this year.
“It would only make sense for them to do so because they need our testing results for data,” he said.
Malihi said she sympathized with the administration and the work they’ve done to restore the test due to how hectic this year has been for the school.
“Considering it is a COVID-19 year, everyone is already trying to figure out what they’re doing and [Newton South is] doing the best with what they have,” she said.
Van Beever said that despite his initial surprise, he is certain that students will perform well on the test.
“We all at the science faculty do a great job of preparing kids, not directly for the MCAS, but what we teach is always going to be clear enough,” he said.
Cassel said she believes that students and faculty will persevere through the continuing challenges despite the struggles of this year.
“The state has put every school district in a very challenging situation,” she said. “But I am confident we will get through this.”