As school principals, teachers and superintendents juggle the logistics of teaching in a pandemic — with classrooms partially filled with masked children, and other kids dialing in over the internet — it’s hard to imagine layering another complication on top of it all. We would count the MCAS as one such complication.

Education leaders in Massachusetts wisely suspended the ritual standardized test last spring, back when schools were emptying as COVID-19 cases were spiking. Yet, on Tuesday, Education Commissioner Jeff Riley informed state education leaders there would be no such respite in 2021. “We have told superintendents very clearly that we do anticipate administering the MCAS this spring,” he said.

In fairness to Riley, the push to restart standardized tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act is coming from U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has a wide base of support. In other words, it may not matter who’s elected president this November, the federal government will still want its test scores.

These do not appear to be folks overly concerned about logistics. Anyone who watches their children drop in and out of Google classrooms at the kitchen table three mornings a week — or whose schools classrooms are completely remote — is probably wondering how this will work. So are the administrators of Advanced Placement tests who ran into trouble giving those tests at the end of the last school year.

Best-case scenario is that coronavirus vaccines are so widely available by next spring, and new cases so few, that kids are back in school full-time and the MCAS, though never really welcome, represents a sign of normalcy. More likely, say infectious disease experts, is that a vaccine is still being introduced, which still has us in the throes of keeping COVID-19 bottled up.

In that realm, trying to figure out how to deliver the MCAS will waste precious time and resource that could be better spent refining school taught at a distance. Force-feeding a standardized test in this environment, with the inevitable hiccups and breakdowns, will also cast doubt upon the results.

Five dozen state lawmakers signed onto a plan a few months ago to suspend the MCAS for four years — a bill that was relegated to a never-ending study. Theirs is not an ideal solution either, but it is much more realistic than resuming tests next spring.


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