An effort to improve the quality of education for all students and to ensure that no child is left behind, Massachusetts advocates, parents and educators of the Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education (CARE) have proposed, House Bill 3660 for the reform of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAST) test.
The high rate of high school dropouts and gaps in achievement among cultures and economic levels has suggested an evaluation of Massachusetts current testing system. Massachusetts has experienced a drop-out rate of approximately 10,000 students per year over the last decade with the highest numbers among the Hispanic, African-American, low-income families, students with learning disabilities and language barriers.
This paper will illustrate the effect of high-stake test and student achievement. It will look at the current MCAST, the need for reform and the underlining challenges to provide equal and quality education to for children.
Advocates claim that the current system has failed to meet '21st century' learning standards in teaching students to be creative, apply critical thinking, learn problem solving techniques, develop leadership skills, team building, and the practice of ethical behavior.
In questioning the strength of the MCAST, advocates proclaim that the purpose of the high-stake examination has not been practiced. It is there stand that high-stake test, like the MCAST should not be a determining factor in granting a high school student a diploma. It is their view that the examination limits opportunities for achievement. MCAST has not proved to be fair in assessing students or provide them an opportunity to excel to their fullest potential. Additionally, key parties are excluded; students, parents, educators, students and the community an opportunity to have a voice in decision making.
In a Public Hearing at the Massachusetts State House, Representative Carl Sciotino referenced a report by the Boston City Council Special Committee for Youth Violent Crime Prevention, in which students expressed in a forum their frustration and boredom with the attention given MCAST. MCAST is the focus in the schools, after school programs, and at home. Sciotino indicated that though there have been improvements as a result of the MCAST, he ask "Is the system delivering on the promise of the Educational Reform Act of 1993? Can we do better?"
House Bill 3660 proposes to raise the bar for student achievement and hold educators, students, parents and communities accountable for the quality of education for all students. Advocates claim that the current MCAST system is not in accord with the intent of the Educational Reform Act of 1993, a comprehensive assessment system enacted to incorporate programs to guarantee student achievement
Prepare students to succeed in the workforce
Prepare students for higher education
Allow the district authority in student learning
Hold school personnel accountable for student achievement
Encourage schools and the district to be innovative, and set examples to include parents and the community.
The Boston Globe reported that MCAST test scores released September 14, 2010 indicate that 57% of the Massachusetts schools failed to meet federal achievement standards. Advocates say that the MCAST is one of the toughest sets of standardized tests in the country. Opponents argue that MCAST and other standardized tests used as graduation requirements force teachers to concentrate on preparing students for testing rather than fostering learning.
MCAST focus is to close the achievement gap between racial and socioeconomic groups. However, research shows that such examinations have no effect on achieving the desired result. It is noted that Massachusetts has one of the largest socioeconomic gaps in the nation. In a study of 8th grade students who qualify for the free lunch program, it was found that the students scored 31 points lower than other students in the math section of the on National Assessment of Educational Progress (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2007). This is noted as the second largest score difference in the nation.
MCAST exam requires students take English, math, science and technology/engineering, history and social science. Students must pass English and math in the 10th grade to be eligible for high school graduation.
Janet McDermott, a parent of a Shannon, a student with epilepsy testified before the house that despite the strong character and ambition of her daughter she was denied the opportunity to graduate with her class. Shannon met graduation requirements, but was four points shy of passing the MCAST math. As a result her well-being and self-esteemed suffered.
Tom Gillispie, also a parent of a student with a disability, attested that his son TJ struggled with the MCAST math test as a result of a language-based learning disability. TJ's disability does not allow him to process information in the same matter as some peers. After repeatedly re-taking the test, TJ consistently scored two points less than the accepted score.
In both cases, the parents claim that the school system failed to teach their children at a level they could comprehend. According Louis Kruger, professor and trained school psychologist at Northeastern University, more than 2000 students with disabilities from the class of 2007 failed to receive diplomas as a result of failing the MCAST. He stated that the MCAST disproportionately denied diplomas to the groups that the education reform act was intended to help. Professor Kruger supported his views by commenting on two studies (unrepresented) he considers the best on high-stake test. Both studies found that "There is no relationship between the uses these tests and high school achievement." The studies also indicate that "high stake testing, like the MCAST does nothing to close the achievement gap."
Not having a high school diploma carries a financial burden for students and society. Without a high school diploma, individuals are denied the opportunity to receive a post-secondary education, military entrance, and any trade or vocational institution. In that the value of a high school diploma has diminished for some is also a factor in the rate of drop outs.
The William Monroe Trotter Institute at ScholarWorks at the University of Massachusetts-Boston conducted a roundtable discussion on the race gap. The forum chose to use the term 'black' to not reference African-Americans, but to define people of color.
The forum centered their concerns around the high rate of African-American and Latino boy drop outs, the number of high school Juniors' who passed the MCAST but chose to dropout, the struggles of students with language barriers and the awareness needed to recognize the signs of an emerging problem. In an assessment conducted by the Parthenon Group, a consultant for Boston Public Schools, students learning the English language are the largest population of children dropping out.
The forum concluded in noting that the MCAST was not necessarily a bad thing in that the focus is to measure academic performance. "Yet, the question remains as to what gains are made by teaching to a test instead of rigorously educating." And "Why do children who pass the MCAST drop out? The forum suggested that children leave school because the curriculum does not allow them to challenge themselves. That the environments are often in unsightly urban neighborhoods and that the adults have failed to capitalize on the opportunity to provide quality education.
According to Linda McSpadden, director of the Center for Education at Rice University, "High-stakes, test-based accountability doesn't lead to school improvement or equitable educational possibilities," "It leads to avoidable losses of students. Inherently the system creates a dilemma for principals: comply or educate. Unfortunately we found that compliance means losing students."
Solving a problem is mathematical, as is with MSCAT, the facts identified, measures have been taken to understand the root of the problems, and all concerned are strategizing on methods to alleviate the gap.
In a study conducted by Bob Wehling, Executive Director, "Building a 21st Century U.S. Education System," he suggest establishing a standardized system across the country. He states that there are 16,000 school districts doing their own thing. It is his belief that "U.S. public education system would produce materially better results by standardizing those elements necessary to ensure that every child has a high quality teacher and an equal opportunity for a great education." Wehling contends that the education system is holding on to old ideas is a contributing factor that hinders Change is hinders the ability to introduce innovative new approaches.
Wehling recommends shifting the focus as he ask questions and make suggestions:
Why should different states have different standards and requirements?
Should families that relocate receive the same expectations with respect to curriculum and requirements?
All high graduates can be subjected to the same educational opportunities with regard their neighborhood
Educators and administrator should be allowed opportunities for professional development rather than focus on levies and bonds
Wehling suggest focusing toward "calculating the societal cost of maintains the status quo. We simply cannot continue to provide disparate educational opportunities and expect equally-successful outcomes."
CARE proposes that accountability be left to the schools to establish curriculum, approach, and determine graduation requirements. They suggest that the Massachusetts Department of Education establish a board to review and approve their methods. The…