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"I'm sorry, I don't speak Massachusetts. Could you repeat that in English?"

The other day, I discussed how the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (formerly the Massachusetts Transit Authority, of "Charlie on the MTA" fame) had redefined the word "unlimited" to include limits. Now we find that another part of the Bay State has decided to re-interpret another word -- "mandatory."

A few years ago, in a rare act of sanity, Massachusetts enacted an educational reform that actually seemed it would help students succeed. They instituted the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, a series of standardized tests that students would have to pass to graduate from the 5th, 8th, and 12th grades respectively. There was, naturally, a bit of controversy over it, but overall it's been pretty successful. Students who failed the test had to re-take it or repeat a grade until they proved they had learned enough of what was expected of them.

This week, the New Bedford, Massachusetts school committee decided that "mandatory" didn't really mean that. They announced that students who met all the other graduation requirements but failed the MCAS would be awarded "general diplomas" and sent forth from their high schools as graduates.

Governor Romney was not amused.

He immediately called upon state education officials to hit the New Bedford School Committee where it hurts -- in the wallet. Apparently the district gets about $100 million a year (a staggering amount, to my mind), and Romney says that some or all of that should be withheld if they don't actually OBEY THE LAW.

The Boston Globe has a bit more sympathetic version of the story, with extensive quotes from backers of the plan. (Big surprise there; as I recall, the Glob was a staunch opponent of MCAS in the first place.) One quote from New Bedford's mayor, Scott Lang, leaped out at me:

''Cutting off our funding will only exacerbate the problem," he said. ''I am not looking for a confrontation, I am looking for a solution from them."

One person has a solution: Representative Antonio F.D. Cabral (D-New Bedford) has filed a bill to allow communities to award diplomas to those who fail MCAS. In other words, he wants to make MCAS optional. I think that's a stupid idea, but it is at least more principled than simply ignoring the law.

Here's a suggestion, Mr. Mayor: you've got the problem, you work on a solution. Either change the law (like Representative Cabral is proposing, or live with it.


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Comments (13)

This has become a growing t... (Below threshold)
Steve L.:

This has become a growing trend in ducation in recent years. "You want us to meet higher standards? We prefer not to." When the state or other agency threatens reasonable actions for the violators of the law, lawsuits are threatened. Unfortunately, the end result is usually that the scofflaws win and the new tougher standards go by the boards.

And we wonder why we are raising a society of funstional illiterates.

<a href="http://6cp.us/1/h/... (Below threshold)

Love and Logic
solutions for parents raising kids suggests you not rescue your kids, but allow them to have to deal with the consequences of their choices and actions in a compassionate way. ie say: "Gee that's a Bummer. What are you going to do about that?" Rather than, "Awww, honey, let me fix that for you."

For the students who fail MCAS and the communities that want to skirt State Law, I suggest the same approach:

Gee that's a bummer! [no diploma or no State money] What are you going to do [besides whine] about that?

"...redefined the word"... (Below threshold)

"...redefined the word"

Sounds like some of these people are well on their way to becoming supreme court nominees in the next Democratic administration.

BTW, Freud works in mysteri... (Below threshold)

BTW, Freud works in mysterious ways:

"Funstional illiterates" describes sk8terboys and gamesters hooked into their iPods very well.

I was once a huge fan of te... (Below threshold)
Jay:

I was once a huge fan of testing. Now I think it's a Bad Thing and one more reason for homeschooling. I should have remembered my own high school experience when a good chunk of 11th grade English was spent teaching the test, and that was merely the SAT.

Objections to the testing (... (Below threshold)
Faith+1:

Objections to the testing (my state does them) has more to do with unionized teachers not wanting to be exposed when they are unqualified than whether the students are impacted or not. There are problems with standardized tests, but no one (at least here in my state) discusses the real problems or possible solutions.

All they argue about at the "information rallies" is how students who can't pass reflect oo poorly on the teachers. Local TV station had a field day when the local head of the teacher's union failed 4 times to pass the standard aptitude test for teachers.

Of course, he demanded a press conference and went on a 10 minute rant on TV....and sounded like an uneducated dweeb who couldn't even get his sentences correct with subject/verb agreement--and he was an English teacher!

Sorry I can't remember the ... (Below threshold)

Sorry I can't remember the link, but one of you regulars out there does, I know.

Standardized tests are nothing new. I saw one web site recently that had a hundred year old [I think it was 8th Grade] State test posted. I doubt many high schoolers would pass it, even if you provided a key for bushels of wheat in a ton, etc. It was all Essay, not even fill in the blanks.

Computers are a fun toy and sometimes an excellent tool, but my kid does her homework with pencil and paper, writes her papers out first before typing them, and does her math on paper or in her head. [She did think my slide rule was kinda cute, however...] Multiple guess tests are a sad dumbing down of our educational system, but better than no tests at all.

Perhaps welfare and unemplo... (Below threshold)
cubanbob:

Perhaps welfare and unemployment benefits ought to be tied to passing the standardized test.
The Feds ought to withhold funding and deny tax detectability to states and municipalities who don't have meaningful standardized test standards and uphold same.

Multiple guess tests are... (Below threshold)
Steve L.:

Multiple guess tests are a sad dumbing down of our educational system, but better than no tests at all.

Our state includes what they call "open response" questions as a part of standardized tests. In literacy, it requires them to actually write a few sentences (or more) as an answer. In the math portion, it requires them to show their work as a part of the answer (they do give partial credit for correct logic but wrong answers.) Needless to say, this is the part of the exam that our students struggle with the most.

I once hired a graduate of ... (Below threshold)
robert:

I once hired a graduate of the Detroit schools who could not read. Not only did he try to hide this fact, he was also an artful con man in other aspects. Why are we surprised? We trained him to game the system and to work it with social promotions.

For many years I ran a training center that brought in student-athletes from all over the world. There was not a single case when the incoming student was below our level at every age and grade, they were all above - sometimes far above - even with a language issue. As we drift down to 20th place in the developed world, we graduate fewer and fewer scientists and engineers, and teachers with lower and lower standards.

Let us face the truth that education is not the field that attracts many of our most talented students. At almost every University, Ed majors are the least able.

There are problems with NCLB starting with teaching to the test. Foreign and special Ed students are lumped right in there, progress should be measured as well, and teachers are somewhat subject to the luck of the draw in their raw material.

But the problems of lost kids, unqualified teachers and failed schools are greater than that. While I have heard no end to complaints with testing, none have come forward with another way to locate these problems. It is difficult to imagine a way to detect problems without some sort of testing. I wait.

Last year, a wealthy industrialist offered to donate 200 million to the Detroit system for the purpose of starting 2 charter schools. It was rejected because the teachers union blocked it.

This is a crime of course, done to the kids who most desperately need help. Any solution, charter schools, vouchers, NCLB is blocked or modified by the power of the unions.

BTW, all of my foreign students were accustomed to annual testing.


I, for one, am tired of hea... (Below threshold)
Dave A.:

I, for one, am tired of hearing teachers whine that standardized tests are bad because they have to spend all their time "teaching the test." Well, duh! The tested material is what the higher-ups have decided the kids should learn, so, yeah, teach it. If you don't like the material, go through the system, make your case (if you can), and get it changed.
Without measurements, there is no accountability.

Obviously all this guff abo... (Below threshold)

Obviously all this guff about "learning" is just a bunch of Dead White Males imposing their arbitrary standards of good and bad on defenseless children.

Who is a teacher to tell a child that the answer "2+2=5" is wrong?

[some will call that reductio -- but I can remember when arguments like this were actually made, and taken, seriously. I'm not convinced it doesn't still happen -- just not where parents and voters can overhear.

Professionally, I teach the... (Below threshold)
"Candy":

Professionally, I teach the students who have fallen through the cracks and are (finally) returning to get that diploma or GED. Most of them come to us with incredibly low reading and math scores.

Personally, I homeschool my own kids.

There is no easy answer to what we are going to do about the educational system. I will say, however, that if any of you are concerned about how your own kids are doing in the public school system, look into homeschooling - it's an amazing option.

Worried about socialization for your kids? My kids are involved in a homeschool co-op (I teach - they get free classes) as well as Little League, youth group at church, etc. They are happy, healthy and well developed. It's not for everyone, but it's worth investigating.




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