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Guest Commentary: A Modest Proposal To Test Our Forgotten Students

(Alberto G./Flickr)
(Alberto G./Flickr)

I can remain silent no more. As another school year begins, thousands of students across the commonwealth are deprived of good education because of their class and race. It’s something we don’t like to talk about, but it is real, and it is destroying the lives of our children.

These are students who live in the margins of our culture. We don’t see them on our streets, or on our Little League fields. Segregated from the rest of us, some are even, when they reach high school age, removed from their families and housed among other unfortunates. Most important, we have no idea whether their education is anything more than a sham, perpetrated upon themselves and their unknowing parents by a shadowy system that is unanswerable to government oversight.

Each year, in a glaring affront to equality and fairness, thousands of students are denied the right to take the PARCC, the MCAS or any of the valuable tests that others get to experience. Their teachers do not have access to the necessary data points required to identify strengths and weaknesses so as to transform them into productive members of society.

The students in our private and independent schools need a voice. Students who don’t take and pass the MCAS are not eligible for many benefits.

Their high school degrees are essentially worthless, for what employer or college will consider an education that doesn’t adhere to the requirements of our Board of Education? And private school students are deprived of perks such as the Abigail Adams Scholarship, which gives free tuition to any public college or university in the commonwealth for students who score well on the MCAS. (Actually, it’s really not that much, since, if you attend one of these public institutions, you discover that most of the cost is in “fees.”) While, of course, students who haven’t been nurtured by the testing culture in our public schools can’t be expected to do well on these tests, we shouldn’t assume that they can’t pass the MCAS if given the opportunity.

And yet, giving these students the opportunity to take the MCAS is using a Band-Aid for a major wound. Students in public education are allowed to enrich their test-taking skills through regular opportunities to practice. In Salem, the city where I live, the school board generously allocated $360,000 for ANET, a test that is not required but enables teachers to identify problems students have before they take their MCAS tests. And such valuable experiences are offered as early as the  second grade. Imagine if this money on testing were distributed equally among all our schools, rather than just those cavalierly labeled the “most deserving.”

And imagine if these students were given the chance to take tests every year! As a former adviser to the U.S. Department of Education pointed out in a stirring op-ed in The New York Times, it is essential to test students in every grade to monitor the progress of “disadvantaged groups.” According to the article, the Obama administration invested more than $360 million in the development of tests. Why should only public school students have access to the fruits of that investment?

Our private school students will be neglected no more. Let them take the tests. Let my people go.

J.D. Scrimgeour is the coordinator of creative writing at Salem State University.

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