The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 15, 2005



Have you noticed that children in Carlisle are subjected to a truly incredible amount of standardized testing? Both the number of tests and the pressure to perform well on them continue to increase.

My family includes a fourth grader and a high school junior, and both have been involved lately with standardized tests; specifically, the SAT and MCAS.

It is nothing new for juniors and seniors to face a gauntlet of tests, including the PSAT, SAT reasoning and SAT subject-specific, ACT and AP. But lately, the pressure has shot up. Teachers advise many students to take review classes (which they offer after school for a fee) before attempting the SAT Biology, Chemistry and Physics tests. And more and more students do sign up for extra help. Private consulting firms offer classes and tutoring for all the tests. There are also parent seminars explaining the advantages of said classes, on-line courses, and books of practice tests. Parents feel pressure to enroll their children in test prep courses to stay competitive.

Asked about the science review classes, Concord-Carlisle High School Principal Arthur Dulong explained they practice with questions from old tests and seek to increase familiarity and confidence with the subject. "It came about because parents asked for it," he said. "Our kids will do fine without it," and felt "We're as well prepared as anyone else."

While SATs and ACTs have been around a long time, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests were only developed in the past decade. Results are used more to evaluate the school than the individual student — until tenth grade. Then students must pass the MCAS in order to receive a high school diploma.

In September of 2002 the Carlisle School Committee joined with other schools to send a resolution to the state Department of Education (DOE) asking that graduation not depend upon a single high-stakes test. DOE has kept the MCAS requirement, and now standardized tests are also mandated by federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. Dulong said that an amendment being considered to NCLB would add mandated testing in grades 9 and 11.

Already, the tenth-grade MCAS is being expanded. Dulong said that in three years, a science test will be added to those in math and English. Shortly after that social studies will be included. The state is also planning to gradually increase the score needed to pass. Dulong said that CCHS will modify its curricula as needed to line up with the MCAS. "We will make sure we've given our students every opportunity possible."

Carlisle School Principal Steve Goodwin agreed that, "with NCLB we're moving toward more testing." In 1999 MCAS was given in Carlisle to grades four and eight. This year MCAS tests are being given to students in grades three through eight. The tests in Carlisle are untimed for all students, but Goodwin estimated that most tests take about an hour. The number of tests varies by grade level, but a typical Carlisle student in grades three to eight will spend about five hours on MCAS this year.

Just how much testing is enough?

How big is a village?

I've just returned from a four-day trip to London, mostly business mixed with a little pleasure. By coincidence, the visit occurred between the death of John Paul II and the marriage of Prince Charles, and so there was no lack of commentary from the British cabbies about the events of the day. I've been to London before, but not since all the changes that took place around the millennium. The place was full of surprises, but not the sort that I expected.

London is a city of some 12 million inhabitants, relatively few of whom appear to be native Brits. Most of the people I encountered were from somewhere else — Australia, India, Pakistan, Africa and Asia, plus a few Americans. Many were young and scurried about with a great sense of urgency. The streets were jammed at all hours, so there was a distinct hustle and bustle, but an orderly one. Londoners are well dressed, energetic, and optimistic. Despite the prices, which are pretty much double what you'd assume to be reasonable, nobody seems poor.

For a city that large, I'd expected to see many tall buildings, noisy traffic jams, much grime and pollution, but there was none of that. The skyline is almost entirely devoid of New York style high-rise buildings. Those that do stand out are distinctly unconventional — Lloyd's of London (which Prince Charles famously described as a "carbuncle") and Swiss Re (which bears a strong resemblance to a dill pickle on steroids). The fabric of the city is such that it accommodates newer buildings with the old without much fuss. The streets are narrow, lined almost exclusively with ground-floor retail shops topped off by several stories of offices or "flats." Despite London's enormous size, complete lack of transecting highways, and the fact that no two roads in the entire city appear to run parallel to each other, it's a relatively easy place to navigate. It's really a collection of neighborhoods stitched neatly together by the subway system. The preferred mode of transport is by foot, though there are plenty of "black cabs" at the ready, piloted by polite, well-informed, English-speaking drivers who have to study for an average of three years and take an extensive examination to be certified. London cabbies take pride in always knowing the most direct route to any destination, no matter how obscure.

My hotel was in the heart of Soho, not too far from Trafalgar Square, a half-hour's stroll from the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Cathedral, and an easy walk to the British Museum, which houses the famous Elgin marbles from the Parthenon. (Lord Elgin didn't lose his marbles, he "rescued" them from the Turks who later used the Parthenon temple to store gunpowder, subsequently blowing it up. Hence, if he hadn't appropriated these ancient Greek treasures, they might very well have been lost forever.)

In New York, "Soho" means "south of Houston Street," but in London, legend suggests it comes from the Duke of Monmouth, who apparently was fond of yelling "Soooohoooothe hare is found!" when out hunting in that part of town. It occurred to me while standing in the hotel lobby that it might have been the very spot where some poor fox had met its fate.

Which leads me back home. It wasn't that long ago that London's Soho was literally in the boonies — probably more rural than Carlisle is today. In another century or two, will some tourist visiting a trendy downtown hotel in burgeoning Boston be wondering if this was the very spot where once upon a time the early settlers had their Old Home Day celebrations?


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2005 The Carlisle Mosquito