Friday, April 11, 2008
EDCO forum airs views on MCAS
Are standardized tests shaping curriculum in unplanned ways? An Education Collaborative (EDCO) Legislative Forum on April 4 focused on how tests such as the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) are affecting curriculum. About 60 attended, including Superintendent Brenda Finn and Assistant Superintendent Diana Rigby, both of the Concord-Carlisle Regional School District.
Yong Zhao, professor of educational psychology and special education at Michigan State University expressed surprise at what he viewed as the lack of protest against standardized testing by American educators, and compared it to Communist China and the “learn the same” rule.
Daniel Koretz, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, spoke about his research on the limitations of standardized testing and why he felt that achievement tests need to be redesigned. Koretz said that curriculums are mistakenly re-aligned to match MCAS. As an example, he said that teachers will practice math questions with a specific formula which they know will appear on the MCAS test. He called narrowly focusing on the formula a type of “cheating” to achieve performance, not knowledge, and blamed the design of the test for encouraging this type of preparation. His book, “Measuring Up,” has just been released.
The third speaker, John D’Auria, Superintendent of Canton Public Schools, spoke about how standardized testing leads students to believe that smart students all have high test scores. “Being smart means how you think about a problem,” instead of simply giving an answer, he said. D’Auria gave as an example this question, which was posed to students during a research study: “There are 125 sheep and 5 dogs in a flock. How old is the shepherd?” Three out of four students will provide a numerical answer, he said, instead of understanding the missing logic of the question and noting it does not provide enough information.
The fourth speaker, Dr. Paul Reville, was the lone dissenting voice in the discussion. Reville has been appointed the chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Education by Governor Deval Patrick. He defended MCAS as a tool to equalize educational standards in Massachusetts. Reville also said MCAS requirements for special education students will not be changed. Citing his own special needs daughter as an example, he believes she should not receive the same diploma as other students. ∆
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