Friday, September 29, 2000
Carlisle School Committee revisits MCAS
The Carlisle School Committee (CSC) had been asked to sign on to the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) resolution that was adopted by the Concord and Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committees last spring. (See box below.) The CSC had decided to discuss the issue separately. Following the discussion the committee decided to craft their own paragraph for review at their next meeting.
Chair Paul Morrison started the discussion at the September 19 CSC meeting saying that even though students in Carlisle are well prepared and do well on the tests, there are other children who are not so fortunate. Should we look just at ourselves or at everyone, he asked. If the tests are flawed, should we ask that they be redone in a major way?
CSC member Harry Crowther, who is also a member of the Regional School Committee (RSC), said that the teachers at CCHS and the Concord schools felt strongly about the points made in the resolution. The importance is primarily for the high school due to the high-stakes nature of the test, he said. He added later that the high school teachers were really making a political statement, talking mostly about the cities, not their own students.
Member David Dockterman agreed that there are problems with the test, many of which are stated in the Concord/Concord-Carlisle resolution. However, he said that asking the state to redo the tests would be a mistake. "You don't take a car back to a bad mechanic," he said. He supported more local control of graduation requirements. CCHS already had standards for graduation, and the MCAS should not be the only standard, he said. Member and former RSC chair Cindy Nock noted that CCHS has additional requirements for graduation beyond the MCAS.
Nock said there is a need for a partnership between communities and the state to achieve education reform. MCAS is really about accountability, she said, and has had the effect of making people more aware of what is happening in the schools. It has also helped Carlisle tighten up and close gaps in the curriculum, she said. However, the MCAS was supposed to have been more comprehensive and not a single high-stakes test, she added.
Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson said that the tests at the elementary level have not been deeply flawed. The time that they take to complete has been excessive, though. She noted that now some of the testing is being spread over several grades, which is an improvement.
Crowther asked about "teaching to the test" and having to align the curriculum to the state frameworks. Fox-Melanson responded, "These frameworks are a good curriculum. It's okay to teach to this test." Then she added, "except for social studies," because that set of frameworks keeps changing.
For Carlisle, she said, the tests are not high-stakes. Rather, they are used as a tool, as the former standardized tests were, to look for surprises. (That is, students whose test scores do not match expectations based on other means of assessment.) "The test is fine for Carlisle," she said, "but if MCAS is a chance to beat up on the cities, we might want to say something against that."
Suzanne Whitney Smith commented that in New York state the Regents exams have been in use for years and seem to work there. She said that the overall effect of the MCAS has been positive for students, but it is still a new test and still needs some tuning.
Morrison said that he would work on a paragraph summarizing their position for the next meeting on October 3.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito