A Look at the MCAS Tests

No beating around the bush. The deal was this-the state would provide several billion extra education dollars over seven years, starting in 1993, and, in return, there would be some accountability.

And, how do you measure if the money was put to good use? By tests, tests of our 4th, 8th and 10th graders. And the 10th graders have to pass the test in order to graduate. The requirement takes place in 2003.

Now, it seems, no one likes the tests. MCAS, they're called.

Some parents don't want their kids to take the tests and fail, because they'll lose their self-esteem. Kids don't want to take the tests, because they're long and hard. Some students are even boycotting the tests. Teachers aren't crazy about the tests, because they're long and hard, and the teachers don't want to feel they've failed in the classroom.

Delegates to the Association of School Committees annual meeting last month called the tests "seriously flawed" and asked the state to eliminate the tests as a graduation requirement. The vote was overwhelming, 137 to 30.

Only the Governor, a majority of the legislators, and the Education Department seem to be carrying the banner for MCAS testing.

And now, the MTA, Mass Teachers Association, has weighed in. With big bucks. $600,000 to be exact.

They're spending it on advertising across the state.

The ads show kids chewing their pencils, watching the clock, and grimacing. We all did that when we took tests!

The narrator delivers the MTA message: "Learning used to be about a lot of things-imagination, creativity, discovery and dreams. But now, the state says it's about one thing-a flawed and unfair test, the one-size fits all, high stakes, do or die MCAS tests. Because starting now, if you don't pass this test, you don't graduate. Your dreams die."

"As teachers, we reject using a single test to deny students a high school diploma, branding them as failures. MCAS should be used to help them out, not throw them out."

What do the teachers want us to do? They haven't said yet. But this month, they're expected to file their legislation for the 2001-2002 legislative session. That should happen this week, in fact, and then we'll know how the MTA and its members will measure success.

Now, the $600,000 won't bankrupt the MTA. They have more than $2-million a year to spend on advertising, all funded from membership dues. They have 87,000 members, who voted to tell the unit to take a leadership role in repealing the MCAS and start the television campaign.

A second campaign is scheduled for spring, when the theme will be "Ask a teacher how to help students achieve the American dream."

Bottom line: Our kids aren't doing well. Too many are flunking the test. And, we have to figure out how to graduate students who have math and English skills that the world expects and needs.

Furthermore, according to a new Mass Insight Education poll, 82 percent of you-the general public-support MCAS as a graduation requirement, as long as failing students get other chances to take the tests, as well as remedial help.

On the down side, I have to add, that 64 percent of the people surveyed felt that a high school diploma "guarantees nothing" when it comes to the basic skills people need for entry level jobs.

Meanwhile, the state's education department has put together a preliminary budget, which they hope the Governor and the Legislature will fund for the next fiscal year.

They want to spend $4.2-billion, an increase of six percent, or $239-million more than the current year. Emphasis is on teacher quality programs, and mentoring and support for teachers. There's an increase of $257-million in direct aid to cities and towns, which raises Chapter 70 money up to $3.2-billion.

In general, cuts that they've asked for target programs mainly in Eastern Mass (METCO, for example), and the majority of programs are level-funded.

We'll only know the entire amount the state will spend on education after the budget is finished, hopefully next June. But, guaranteed, there will be an increase in spending.

Okay. More money. Plus accountability. Your ideas?

All materials copyright 1997 - 2014