This is STILL no time to cheer over high-stakes test results
Plenty of (black and Hispanic and poor and disabled and limited-English) children still being left behind
The headline in today's Globe sounded like good news: "90% of seniors pass MCAS: Underperformers gain on final try." In other words, 10% of Massachusetts high school seniors lost all hope of gaining a diploma on time. That is, 10% on average... but the numbers are much more dismal when you compare wealthy towns and poor towns or whites and minorities.
Buoyant state officials yesterday heralded the results from a December retest that winnowed the number of seniors who failed MCAS from 10,500, or 19 percent, to 6,058, or 10 percent. The scores, they said, proved that a decade of state education reform is paying off and that when faced with tougher standards students and schools respond.I'm sorry, that's just bullshit. As the daughter of two Massachusetts public school teachers, I can tell you the two-week-long test and the restrictive curriculum that goes with it do nothing but waste precious classroom time and discourage creativity and actual... learning. Teachers whose classes underperform on the test can be punished, and principals whose schools underperform... you get the idea. Everything becomes about the test. There are MCAS conferences, MCAS meetings, MCAS scoring sessions... MCAS MCAS MCAS MCAS MCAS MCAS MCAS MCAS.... ahhh! (scream!)
And then there are the vicious inequalities. Again from the Globe:
Groups that have traditionally underperformed on MCAS posted their greatest gains this time around -- the fourth and last chance for seniors to pass in time to graduate with their peers in June. But despite the upward trend, Hispanics, African Americans, students with disabilities, and those with limited English still lagged behind -- fueling criticism that the graduation requirement is unfair to minorities and other special populations.Somehow, I just don't feel like dancing.
For example, 1 in 4 black students will not receive a diploma, and nearly 1 in 3 Hispanics won't graduate compared with just 6 percent of whites. Although passing rates among students with limited English jumped from 35 percent to 67 percent, that still leaves 1 in 3 without a diploma. And among special education students, nearly 1 in 3 won't graduate.
And I don't feel particularly hopeful that things will improve any time soon, not with Romney butchering local aid (which the less wealthy towns and cities DEPEND on to fund education and other essentials), jacking up the price of state college tuition (and privatizing some colleges) and so on and so forth.
High-stakes testing isn't a Massachusetts-specific issue, of course: the MCAS is perfectly in line with Bush's version of "leaving no child behind." In fact, Bush has praised the Massachusetts testing programs as a model that should be adopted by the rest of the country. See the Christian Science Monitor's recent article One cautionary tale about school reform: Massachusetts, singled out by Bush as a national leader, shows the ups and downs of an accountability plan." (The CS Monitor is, of course, Clay Bennett's paper, so go read his cartoons while you're at it.)
If you're interested, check out my earlier complaints about the MCAS and educational inequality for quotes and links to more articles on the subject: my old cartoon "Elimination Game", "Cambridge defies high-stakes testing," "Is the Class Half Empty or Half Full?", a cartoon with the same title, and "More MCAS fun."