More Ideas on MCAS Tests

Since writing last week's column on MCAS tests, a few things have happened. Including, new scores.

Frankly, I figured I'd have to take it on the chin, with teachers, parents, superintendents and students calling to let me know that they thought I was being unfair. That's because I complained that too few of our Westfield seniors are passing the tests, which are required for a diploma. Which is still true, by the way.

I only asked the logical question, "Why have so few of our seniors passed the test?" And, not one complaint. Several comments, which I will get to later, however.

The changes?

Between writing the column and publishing it, a group sued to stop the state from using the test, on the basis that it discriminated against minorities and that the test could ruin lives.

And, Education Commissioner David Driscoll announced the availability of a certificate, to be awarded to students who finish class requirements but don't pass the MCAS.

Westfield Voke's Principal Steve Pippin, quoted in this paper (The Westfield Evening News), commended his staff for developing courses of study to give students the tools needed to pass the mandatory test. He also, however, blamed the test, saying it does little for students who worked hard for a passing grade, but failed anyway.

At Voke, according to state numbers, some 32 percent of tenth graders taking the English test this failed. And, 41 percent failed the math test.

Things are looking up at Westfield High, where only 9 percent failed the English tests and 18 percent failed the math tests in the May round of exams. And, Westfield High Principal Thomas Daly announced a tutoring program now through early December for those who failed.

Meanwhile, The Boston Globe ranked Westfield 185th in the state, based on average scaled scores for the 10th grade English and math tests. (Holyoke came in last, at 212th.) And in Western Mass, we were neither in the top ten or bottom ten.

Enough of the background. Now, the responses to my column.

"More probing needs to be done not only in Westfield but in other pockets of failure across the State. What are the ethnic makeups of the various school populations with high failures? What are educational goals and attitudes of those ethnic groups? What are the educational levels of the families who have children who are failing the MCAS?  

"How relevant to the lives of the failing students is the content of MCAS? Is it really necessary for all students to master more complex math skills, for example? (I struggle to remember when in the distant past

was the last time I used or needed anything I learned in algebra or geometry courses I completed with grades of A. But how often I have wished that a course in typing skills had been required!!)   

"What is the quality and accessibility of special ed services in places like Westfield? Most certainly SPED students should be held to different criteria regarding MCAS."


"It is so sad the children of today are not getting the point about education. The parents should have to attend classes to stress the importance of education, They should all be assigned a mentor."

"Why does the state treat both schools (Westfield High and Voke) the same when they are so obviously different. Maybe some questions on electrical wiring, electronics or carpentry should be included on the test to even things up."

One gentleman sent in almost a dozen ideas and answers, including some possible answers to my question, "Why are our students failing?"

"Because there is no perceived incentive (that they understand) to qualify. Because the concept of failure is ingrained in them by our societal structure. Because we've taught young people that it's alright to fail. Because many young people have been taught that there is no way that they will ever amount to anything at all anyway, so why bother? Because it isn't "cool" to be a winner."

More answers. "Because bureaucracy protects itself and re-invents itself in an ever-increasing spiral up from it's beginning in any venue. Bad teachers have tenure and the larger the system gets, the more layers are available for them to use as a shield to protect them from discovery and action. We are thus buried in their product of a failed system and it gets bigger and the failure rate expands."

"Standards have been re-written to allow less stringency in requirements. Proven programs in education have undergone basic design changes that have gutted their value. Samples range from spelling to basic mathematics and curriculum changes have gutted the learning process as well. The best example I have is penmanship. Yeeeegggghhhhhhhhh!"

"The most basic standard of instruction isn't available to the child at home because the parent is equally ignorant or otherwise lacks the basic understanding to pass it along."

"A huge percentage of today's students have little or no sense of personal value or honor."

A retired teacher, who says he taught in a highly volatile and dangerous environment, (Job Corps), put the onus on teachers, saying "Many of my students achieved as long as they were with me."

Enough about MCAS. Next week…what did the legislature accomplish this year.

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