Mass. Teacher Says She Was Suspended for Not Administering MCAS Exam

The Massachusetts Teachers Association wants the MCAS to come to an end, and the focus this pandemic-shortened year should be on teaching kids in the classroom, not administering standardized tests

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Deb McCarthy was back inside her fifth grade classroom Tuesday after serving a two-day suspension -- she said she'd been told to go home Friday and stay there Monday when she refused to administer the MCAS exam.

McCarthy is being called a conscientious objector, one of at least 55 teachers, most of them in the Cambridge school system, who say they won’t proctor the MCAS this year.

“We need to teach, not test during a pandemic,” said McCarthy, a teacher in Hull. “I absolutely know in my heart that I am an educator of conscience and I’m doing what is right.”

Some of the conscientious objectors joined McCarthy on Monday as a show of support when she was sent home from Jacobs Elementary.

“The punishment could be as severe as dismissal and that’s why our educators really are very courageous in taking that risk to protect the students,” said Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. “They are risking potential loss of their job.”

The union wants the MCAS to come to an end, especially this year. With a shortened school year for full-time in-person learning, the union says the focus should be on teaching kids in the classroom and not administering standardized tests.

“Our students have been in isolation for 14 months and what they need in the precious few weeks that are remaining is to feel a sense of wholeness and reconnect to their community,” Najimy said.

All Massachusetts educators will be eligible to get a coronavirus vaccine shot beginning next week.

Dr. Lisa Fiore, a professor of education at Lesley University, said the tests should not be administered, especially during a pandemic, as students have struggled enough. 

“I think they’ve never been a terrific measure of students' learning,” said Fiore. “Until everyone has equal resources these exams cannot be considered an objective, equitable measure. If a teacher that demonstrates high quality learning gets dismissed because of this, I think that’s absurd.”

The Hull school district has not returned a request for comment.

State education officials delayed and shortened this year's MCAS for 3rd through 8th graders and offered a remote option for students still learning remotely. The Baker administration is among the groups that have called testing a key tool for measuring the learning loss during the pandemic.

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