Massachusetts pulls controversial question on race from state tests

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BOSTON, Mass. (WCVB) – Education officials in Massachusetts are tossing out a standardized test question after students say it left them feeling traumatized.

The question, based on an excerpt from the novel, “The Underground Raildroad,” asked students to write an essay from the perspective of the character Ethel – a racist white woman living in North Carolina before the Civil War.

“When we debriefed it in class the next day, a lot of them just said I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to say bad things about a black girl like me,” said Jessie Lortie, an English teacher in Boston.

Students across Boston raised concerns which prompted the state decided to remove the question from make-up exams and eliminate it from student’s English MCAS scores. But the NAACP, state Teacher’s Unions and other groups say the whole test should be thrown away.

“This test traumatized them and then they were expected to move on with the rest of the test and the rest of the day as if nothing else happened,” said Merrie Najimy, the President of Massachusetts Teachers Association.

State education officials say the questions went through the regular vetting process and was approved by a committee of teachers and tested on 1,100 students who reported no problems.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says, “And that’s where we should have caught it — where it should have been caught, I should say. We’re going to move forward here and we’re going to work with the state to make sure that any time they give us a test to do again, something like this doesn’t happen.”

Colson Whitehead, who wrote the 2016 novel “The Underground Railroad” said in a release that the test question did a “great disservice” to students.

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