MCAS Question Controversy: Unions Attempt to Play Politics with Kids for Their Own Benefit, AGAIN

“What kind of idiot would have students imagine the rationalizations of a racist coward who shrinks from moral responsibility?”

Colson Whitehead, Author of “Underground Railroad”

Apparently, all kinds of idiots.

From the Boston Globe — news of a racist-as-hell question appearing on the exam asking students to write an essay from the perspective of a racist:

“When 10th-graders sat down for the MCAS this spring, many confronted an essay question that struck them as inappropriate and insensitive: They were asked to write a journal entry from the perspective of a white woman who uses derogatory language toward a runaway slave and is conflicted about helping her.

The essay question — based on a passage from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Underground Railroad” — sparked a range of questions among students, including whether using racist language would win them points for historical accuracy or deductions for inappropriateness. Some Boston school administrators, including interim Superintendent Laura Perille, contacted state education officials last Friday to voice their objections.

In response, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education informed superintendents on Sunday that students would not be scored on the question and that students taking the makeup exam this week would be instructed not to answer it — a rare move by the department.”

Is it a problem? Oh hell yes. Huge problem. Can you imagine asking children of color to empathize with a racist white woman and try to process her thought process? That’s a big NOPE.

And now it’s a huge problem that teachers unions in Massachusetts are using as a political weapon and excuse to end to accountability and the MCAS. Here’s their email blast to members this afternoon:

Now, we can talk about the absurdity of the people who literally put our children into the school to prison pipeline being the arbiters of “equity and justice” for children of color on another day — but the real question is — why would a group whose members failed in their responsibility of being the check and balance to prevent these questions from getting in front of kids then have the cojones to use it as an excuse to end testing?

I mean, with that kind of cognitive dissonance going on, how do you even lift your head off the pillow in the morning?

Here’s MTA President Merrie Najimy:

“For all of the unconscionable aspects of standardized testing, DESE has imposed a new layer of trauma — particularly on students of color — forcing students to read a tiny excerpt of the book, produce a quick answer about race relations embodying a racist perspective, and then stifle the complicated emotions that emerge. To deny students their right to wrestle with the issues with their teachers reveals that the MCAS is not about education at all and only undermines a school curriculum,” said MTA president Merrie Najimy.

But like, dude. You’re PART of the trauma.

You see, who reviews and approves the test before it is administered?

“The state education department says it thoroughly vets MCAS questions, which are also subject to approval from a bias and sensitivity committee.”

There are actually SEVERAL groups that review the test before it is administered.

Here is the current MCAS Assessment Development Committee (ELA) as of 2019:

Literally all of them are members of the Massachusetts Teachers Union or the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts.

And the MCAS Bias and Sensitivity Committee:

According to the DESE website, the Bias and Sensitivity Committee members list hasn’t been updated since November of 2015.

So we called to get the list of members.

WE ARE STILL WAITING FOR THE CURRENT LIST OF MEMBERS. We have no idea who is actually responsible for vetting the questions that end up in front of our children.

But based on the makeup of the committee from 2015, again, it’s all educators. From the MTA and the AFT.

For those of you playing along at home:

Two full committees.

Of educators.

From district schools.

From across the state.

Each district compensated $150 per day for the educator’s time spent in reviewing the material.

Reviewing and approving the test before it is administered.

Not only for substance, but also intentionally with a lens for BIAS and SENSITIVITY.

In addition to the review of the questions through the committees of educators — the questions were actually tested with students:

“The essay question for “The Underground Railroad” was approved in 2017 and tried out last spring with 1,100 students in 255 high schools, including 14 in Boston, with no reported problems.

The bias and sensitivity committee reviewed those results before signing off on the question again.”

How is it possible that the Massachusetts Teachers Association would miss the fact that they are complicit in the process leading to the trauma inflicted on these children?

I suppose the same way they miss the fact that it is their members who are complicit in the perpetuation of the school to prison pipeline — hence why many communities are a little skeptical of the nearly all-white teachers unions claiming the narrative of “educational equity” warriors.

Some civil rights groups and leaders of color have been weighing in:

“This issue brings into question the matter of who is reviewing and approving the test before it is administered. The lack of cultural sensitivity and adequate supervision is a serious matter for all communities and certainly for communities of color,” said Juan Cofield, president of the New England Area Conference of the NAACP.

It certainly does, Juan. Maybe you should ask the other folks on your press release what’s up with that?

And others — from the Boston Globe:

“James Morton, vice chair of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said he supported the commissioner’s decision and was glad students voiced their concerns, noting “as a black man, I live daily under the cloud of oppression, slavery and racism.”

“No malfeasance — but the bias committee missed this,” Morton said in a statement. “I am personally sensitive to the issues raised by the question as I was a kid who wondered if my classmates noticed that I wore the same pants, Monday through Friday, and as a kid who had, as a seventh-grader, been placed in a class for slow-learners and juvenile delinquents.”

No malfeasance?

Actually — what happened is pretty much the definition of malfeasance.

“Tanisha Sullivan, president of the Boston branch of the NAACP, called for “a full and thorough investigation into how and why the question was even on the test.”

“I would be concerned about the impact on students’ ability to complete the MCAS in a way that allows them to demonstrate their best,” she said.”


“Whoever came up with the question has done a great disservice to these kids, and everyone who signed off on it should be ashamed,” Whitehead said.

Yes. They should. And they certainly shouldn’t be using this situation for their own political gain.

You see, teachers unions will always hate standardized testing, because when we have data tracking student outcomes, it allows us to hold them accountable for underperforming and inequities in our school districts. And there are few things that inspire more whining and gnashing of teeth on the part of teachers unions than being held accountable for student outcomes.

Once again, we have an all white group whose members approved the racist questions switching sides now that a spotlight has been put on their problematic perspectives and behavior.

We have to get past these folks who have positioned themselves as “white saviors” and ensure we are holding everyone accountable. Too often we blame the test, which is easier, than the people and the structures that created the problems in the first place.

Clearly the members of the anti bias committee — and likely the 94% of teachers in Massachusetts who are white — could use anti-bias, racism and cultural competency trainings.

Pearson was wrong. DESE was wrong. The members of the committees were wrong. 

Now who is going to make it right?

What do you think?

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