Controversial MCAS Question Dealing With Race Removed After Backlash

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(Caiaimage/Chris Ryan)

BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — State education officials are under fire after black students in Boston say they were offended by a racially insensitive question on a recent state standardized exam.

The question on the MCAS test, administered to 10th-grade students, asked students to write an essay from the perspective of Ethel, an openly-racist character in Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Underground Railroad who betrays escaping slaves.

A joint statement by 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Education Justice Alliance and the New England Area Conference of the NAACP Wednesday demanded the question be withdrawn.

"The lack of cultural sensitivity and adequate supervision is a serious matter for all communities and certainly for communities of color," NAACP-NEAC President Juan Cofield said in the statement.

Those groups urged the Department of Education and Secondary Education (DESE) to pull not just the question, but the entire exam.

Boston School Superintendent Laura Perille said students never should have been asked to write from the perspective of a racist character.

"We were concerned when issues of race sensitivity were brought to our attention by our students and teachers, and we felt that it was incredibly important to raise the concerns directly to DESE on behalf of our students," Perille said. "We did that, we are very grateful that DESE responded very quickly and very affirmatively in their decision. We agree with their decision."

Officials said the students who took the exam won't be graded on their answer to that question—and it will be eliminated from future exams.

Mayor Marty Walsh said the question was "very damaging."

"The question's insensitive, and it should have been flagged beforehand," Mayor Marty Walsh told WBZ NewsRadio's Mike Macklin. "But I'm proud of our kids, the way they responded in our schools, the kids that took the test ... it shouldn't have happened."

Gov. Charlie Baker also weighed in on the exam question in a statement to WBZ NewsRadio.

“The governor supports Commissioner [of Education Jeffrey] Riley’s decision to quickly invalidate this question due to the student and teacher reaction, and to ensure all students taking this MCAS exam are tested and scored fairly.”

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WBZ NewsRadio's Mike Macklin reports

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