Friday, May 19, 2000
At the most recent Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee meeting, a petition was presented to the committee, signed by 80 percent of the teachers in the Concord system and at the regional high school, asking the school commitee "to publicly oppose the current use of the MCAS (tests), particularly as a requirement for graduation." Concerned with the "high stakes" aspect of the test (as of 2003, students must pass the MCAS tests in order to graduate), the amount of time it takes to administer the tests (two weeks in late spring) and the dubious quality of some of the questions, these teachers have not asked the school committee to condemn student testing. Rather, they have asked the committee to stand up and demand a better system of testing. (See RSC article, p.1)
These teachers are to be commended. It isn't easy to come forward with such a request at a time when any squawk out of teachers regarding testing can be twisted to sound self-serving. And granted, there are teachers out there who see any form of change as a threat, but this is not the case with these teachers. To quote one of them, "We are not opposed to testing, and we applaud the imposition of high educational standards state-wide, but let's not have the test hanging over the students' heads like a sword of Damocles." The people who signed this petition hope that, with the support of many school committees around the state, the department of education will postpone implementing the make-it-or-break-it graduation requirement and take time to review and sharpen the tests. The many mistakes to be found in the present test only point to the problems that arise when a good idea is put into practice too quickly and with too little thought. Comprehensive testing as a means of assessing a student and a school system is valuable only when it is done right. The petition represents an attempt to fix the system, not abolish it, and the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee should back their teachers in this effort.
If you have a family member in Massachusetts public schools, you're well aware of the disruption in learning that is currently being imposed by the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). Constructive education for many students came to a near halt this past week and will continue to be disrupted all next week as schools commit nearly 16 hours to this examination.
My effectiveness as a teacher is due, in large part, to the instructional momentum I am able to generate within my classes. It normally increases to a crescendo in late May and ensures that my students will be reasonably productive through the logy, hot days of June. The MCAS severely diminishes my teaching performance by interrupting this momentum. The inertia that develops following the MCAS session is insurmountable. And the warm summer weather adds to the conspiracy against me.
Furthermore, colleges care not one hoot about the MCAS results. They use the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the SAT-II subject matter achievement tests for decision-making. However, following the MCAS, I'll have only one inertia-laden week available for force-feeding crucial chemistry concepts that will likely appear on the SAT-II. These would normally have been solidified during the weeks now devoted to MCAS.
I predict that SAT-II performances will decline just as the SATs have declined in George W. Bush's revered "Texas success." The MCAS will exact its toll. But this will not be acknowledged by the political appointees in Boston. Rather, the lower scores will be cited as one more reason to support state Board of Education Chairman Peyser's referendum for private school vouchers.
Peyser promotes MCAS as an assessment device that will enable schools to identify their weaknesses and to institute corrective actions. If this is true, why don't the presently exempt private schools clamor to be included? I find it revealing that a member of the state Board of Education has the audacity to cite the private school exemption from MCAS as an enticement for procuring prospective students for his private school alma mater.
I also contend that the current use of the MCAS is illegal! The 1993 Ed Reform Act wisely states that the system evaluating the schools and districts "... shall employ a variety of assessment instruments." Instead, the state Board of Education has chosen to ignore this mandate by employing a single instrument, the MCAS. It's my understanding that a state agency cannot act contrary to the legislation that controls it. Yet, this is precisely what is happening.
I'm not opposed to accountability. What I do oppose is the assessment of an entire school and its students through the administration of one faulty, enormously expensive, and ridiculously long test that severely disrupts student learning. Further, I've consumed many hours poring over our local results and can honestly say that they have told me nothing that had not been known previously... absolutely nothing.
The intrusion of state and national bureaucrats into our local school systems is severely diminishing our capabilities. In Green Cemetery, the epitaph of Carlisle's beloved and politically astute Skip Anderegg implores us to:
Go and See
Be a Player
If you care about quality education, it's time to heed Skip's call.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito