Massachusetts Boycotts

K-12 Testing

Protesting what they called harmful and unfair testing, a number of students and parents from across Massachusetts decided to boycott the state's Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams (MCAS) when they were administered for the second time this spring.


The boycotts included parents of 4th grade students who decided to keep their children home during the 20 hour exam, as well as 8th and 10th grade students who boycotted the test on their own, usually with the support of their parents.


Parents from a variety of schools expressed similar complaints over the length of the test, the time taken away from learning, and the negative impact of the tests on their children's self esteem and on the quality of education offered at their schools. One parent of a 4th grader spoke for many in explaining that "giving a one-size-fits-all-exam is not a good way to measure everyone."


Groups of high schoolers from suburban Danvers and Boston gathered petition signatures from fellow students who were unwilling to walk out of the exam but believed the tests were narrowing education offered at their schools and would be unfair to many of their peers. One student commented that she believed many students had purposely left answers blank on the test to protest the exam.


Students who are absent from the state exam receive a zero, which is calculated into their school's total score, but the state attaches no rewards or sanctions to individual scores. Local school superintendents have flexibility in determining punishment for students who boycott the test. Six students in Danvers were suspended for their actions, while other officials decided not to take action as long as students completed alternative work.


Gene Sommerfeld, a scientist with over 40 patents to his name and the father of a Danvers boycotter, was outraged at the punishment his son received for acting on his convictions. His 16 year old son was first suspended, and later assigned to read a "375-page novel during the test and write five essays," he said. "My son taught me about this exam which I previously knew nothing about. Now I'm convinced that the whole testing program is ridiculous."


Sommerfeld concluded, "As a scientist, I know that what drives this nation's technological competitiveness is its ability to innovate. We don't need students who think alike, we need them to develop their creative talents, and this isn't what we'll get with this test."


Parents and students say they plan similar actions against the test next year and will work to inform others about the pitfalls of high stakes testing and advocate for changes in the state's assessment program.