Delegates to the 2015 MTA Annual Meeting have voted to support the right of parents to opt their children out of high-stakes standardized testing.
The Annual Meeting, which drew more than 1,100 delegates from all over Massachusetts to the Hynes Convention Center in Boston on May 8 and May 9, also featured wide-ranging discussion of education issues, including the state takeover of the Holyoke Public Schools. The delegates heard speeches by award recipients and a keynote address by Seattle educator and social activist Jesse Hagopian.
On Friday, the delegates passed a new business item that requires MTA President Barbara Madeloni and Vice President Janet Anderson to send a letter to Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester and state legislators stating the following MTA positions:
- That parents in Massachusetts deserve the choice to opt their public school students out of high-stakes standardized assessments.
- That districts should be required to provide all parents with yearly written information explaining their right to opt students out of assessments.
- That students who opt out should not be included in data used by state or federal entities in “grading” schools.
- That no parent or student should be penalized because of a parental decision to opt out.
- That no educator should be disciplined for discussing with students, parents or community members the options for opting students out of high-stakes tests.
Madeloni said the opt-out vote by the delegates representing more than 110,000 educators in Massachusetts — including preK-12 educators, educators in the public higher education system and retired educators — is indicative of the growing consensus around the country that standardized high-stakes testing is out of control.
“Supporting the right to opt out is one of the strongest statements we can make as educators against standardized testing,” Madeloni said. “We need to support the parents and students who decide to do this. The MTA will vigorously defend any educator who is disciplined for supporting the right of parents and students to opt out. The more people step up and speak out, the clearer will be the message to our legislators that the people of Massachusetts want to put a stop to the madness of standardized testing,” she said.
“Standardized testing is distorting the goals of public education and choking the creativity and joy that should be at the center of teaching and learning,” Madeloni added.
They directed Madeloni to convey the association’s support for free public higher education to the governor, the president of the Massachusetts Senate and the speaker of the House. The delegates also urged the MTA to assist interested MTA chapters in organizing community forums on the issue at campuses around the state.
Turning to another matter, the delegates voted in support of the following new business item: “The 2015 MTA Summer Conference scheduled for August at UMass Amherst be canceled and that the MTA do no business with the university until such time that all salary increases are paid, including the retroactive component.”
The MTA will begin making plans for an alternative site and a scaled-down version of the conference, Madeloni told the delegates.
Delegates to MTA’s 170th Annual Meeting also filled positions on the Board of Directors; reviewed and debated recommended changes to association bylaws and standing rules, rejecting some while approving others; approved amendments to resolutions; and passed the association’s operating and public relations/organizing budgets for the coming fiscal year.
Hagopian, the keynote speaker, was the leader of a test boycott in 2013 at Garfield High School in Seattle, where he teaches history and serves as an adviser to the Black Student Union. He is widely known as a contributor to and the editor of “More than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.”
He congratulated the delegates on their vote to support opting out and told the delegates, “We are currently in the largest uprising against high-stakes testing in the history of the United States.”
Hagopian remarked on how the movement, tiny at first, is now “turning upside down and inside out” the standardized testing industry. It has ignited a social movement across the country to reclaim public education, he said.
He told the delegates — who responded to his speech with applause — that the ballooning opt-out movement is indicative of a new consciousness that education needs to solve problems such as global warming and income inequality that are far too complicated to be measured by a fill-in-the-bubble test.
The delegates heard remarks by Friend of Education honoree Susan Lee Weissinger, the MTA’s recently retired general counsel; Harneen Chernow, the state director of the Massachusetts 1199SEIU Training and Upgrading Fund, who was named the Friend of Labor; Lisa Guisbond, executive director of Citizens for Public Schools and an assessment reform analyst at the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, who received the President’s Award; and Dr. Jeffrey Shea, a Belmont High School social studies teacher and the 2015 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year.
Other new business items adopted by the delegates require that:
- The MTA continue to oppose the uploading, collection and storage of personal data from Massachusetts prekindergarten and kindergartners by third-party private contractors and work legislatively to overturn the selective mandate for Teaching Strategies GOLD as part of the Massachusetts Kindergarten Entry Assessment program.
- In partnership with community groups across the state, the MTA gather opinions on “the present assault on public education and research-validated alternatives to it. A draft version of our response, ‘The Schools Our Children, Families and Communities Deserve,’ will be completed within a year’s time.”
- The MTA continue to promote and support the “Schools Our Children Deserve” initiative in districts under the immediate threat of receivership. The delegates directed the MTA to support community and membership organizing and research the consequences of receivership by documenting teacher pay, working conditions and the erosion of collective bargaining rights, among other issues.
- Legislation be filed directing the Pension Reserve Investment Trust to study existing holdings in fossil-fuel companies and weigh the impact of divesting from its investments in such companies.
- The MTA focus training and development resources on an open-bargaining model for locals and bring community allies into the process.
- The MTA reaffirm its commitment “to eliminate discrimination in public education” and to “prevent any encroachment on basic civil and human rights” and develop related materials for members.
To see photos from the 2015 Annual Meeting of Delegates, please visit flickr.com/mtacommunications.