Massachusetts’ Civil Rights groups and teachers’ unions are outraged by a racist question in the state ELA Test. 

“In response to accounts about racially troubling questions embedded in this year’s 10th-grade English Language Arts MCAS exam, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the Boston Teachers Union, the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance and the New England Area Conference of the NAACP are demanding that the test immediately be pulled and that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education not score any exam that included a question concerning material from Colson Whitehead’s novel “The Underground Railroad.”

“The organizations further insist that the DESE end the gag order imposed on students and educators barring them from discussing the content on the MCAS exams. Educators and students are forced to sign confidentiality agreements saying that they will not reveal the questions — or even discuss the contents. Students could have their test scores tossed out; educators could lose their licenses to teach. Passing the 10th-grade MCAS test is a graduation requirement.

“Educators and students have reported that the MCAS is using the passage from “The Underground Railroad” to have students write a journal entry from the perspective of the character Ethel, who is openly racist and betrays slaves trying to escape.

“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….”

”MTA Vice President Max Page said this was not enough and repeated the call for a moratorium on high-stakes testing.

“Students should definitely read the brutal and brilliant book ‘The Underground Railroad’ and work with experienced educators on exploring the important and complex issues it raises,” Page said. “But in order to do so, our students need fully funded schools with small class sizes and teachers who have the academic freedom to guide this complex and emotional discourse so that students are building empathy and understanding of our troubled history. Our schools also must include libraries stocked with literature and full-time librarians who can guide children in exploring the diverse and multiple perspectives on any subject.”