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Massachusetts mayor gets F in civics, but A for effort

A month ago, I mentioned the tale of a Massachusetts mayor who wanted to award special diplomas to students who had completed their classwork, but had not passed the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam. He said that even though passing the exam was "mandatory" under law, he wanted to give those students a "special" diploma.

This, predictably, irritated the hell out of those who had passed the MCAS system just three years ago. Governor Romney stated that if the New Bedford school district wanted to ignore the rules, they could do without state funding -- to the tune of $100,000,000 a year.

Well, Mayor Scott Lang (no relation) took a long look at the situation, and has decided to back down. He says he'll still continue to fight the MCAS system, but not by ignoring or violating the law.

The Boston Herald, predictably, opposed Lang's plan. They applauded his change of tactics (if not heart), and cited several stories of students who repeatedly failed the test -- only to finally pass it.

This whole story captures a few of my core beliefs about children and education. They need to learn that failure is an inevitable part of life, and everyone needs to learn how to deal with it. They need to learn that the real world recognizes real achievement and real accomplishments, not "efforts." And they need to learn that (to steal a phrase from myself) whatever someone gives you, someone can take away.

It's nice that Mayor Lang wanted to give the students awards for their hard work. But the state law specifically says what they need to do in order to earn their diplomas, and quite simply, they did not earn them. To give them those diplomas would cheapen the diplomas earned by their fellow students.

Perhaps MCAS isn't the best system. Maybe it has flaws. But in my opinion, it's better than nothing, and it is the law.


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Comments (8)

Excellent post and logic. ... (Below threshold)

Excellent post and logic. You'd make a great parent (biology has a sense of humor, huh?).

Perhaps the mayor's efforts... (Below threshold)

Perhaps the mayor's efforts would be better spent working with the school board to figure how students can complete their coursework and not be ready for the exam. It would seem that the exam is simply there to demonstrate that the schooling has been up to par.

My wife is a teacher, and s... (Below threshold)
Steve L.:

My wife is a teacher, and she has her students do a self-evaluation at the end of each grading period. The assignment is part introspection and part writing assignment. Part of the evaluation is for the student to tell her what grade they feel they deserve and to defend that choice. Invariably, there will be one or more students whose response is, "I deserve an A because I did everything you asked me to do." Despte her best efforts, the students continually fail to understand that doing everything you are asked to do is the minimum standard not the maximum.

I attribute this to the non-stop worry that the field of education has about a child's self-esteem. Unfortunately, as we adults all realize, such concern does nothing for preparing a student for life. How many of us work for people who truly worry about our self-esteem? Failure is a very important part of life. It is from failure that we learn. We don't learn a lot when we succeed, but we sure learn when we fail. When we prevent students from failing, we are preventing them from learning.

Or: PERHAPS! The mayor isn... (Below threshold)
USMC Pilot:

Or: PERHAPS! The mayor isn't as interested in the children as he is the budget. Kids that fail the test must logically require more attention from teachers which costs money. Once agian the old saying "follow the money" seems to apply.

Keeping the kids 'dumbed do... (Below threshold)

Keeping the kids 'dumbed down' would explain why they keep sending people like the Kennedy/Kerry's to represent them. Too dumb to pass a test, too dumb to vote. Can't read, Just mark the ones on the page with a 'D' beside it. Duh, ok.

You know, about near the en... (Below threshold)
Tim in PA:

You know, about near the end of this entry I suddenly remembered something. We're talking about a freakin' high school diploma here. Take a look at modern education compared to a generation or two or three ago, and think of what that really means.

Now of course you'll have special cases like the developmentally disabled, and recent immigrants who are working to overcome language barriers and whatnot. However, students like those aside, the gist of it is this:

If you cannot earn a high school diploma in the modern public education system, you are incredibly lazy, incredibly stupid, or a combination thereof. That's all there is to it, folks.

Furthermore, the #1 cause of academic failure, especially in urban schools, is the pervasive culture of being, well, lazy and stupid.

Public "education" is a fai... (Below threshold)

Public "education" is a failed enterprise. The only question is, "How bad will we let it get before we institute market reforms in the system?"

In my own school district, at the high school graduation ceremony, they let non-graduating seniors wear caps and gowns and receive a "certificate of attendance" that certifies they met the legal requirements for attending school, even though they did not accumulate sufficient credits to graduate.

Having dealt with many of the graduates, and even those headed to major colleges, I can only wonder just how freakin' stupid these kids with the attendance certificates must be. I'll bet some of them frame it on their walls . . .


Being the contrarian here:<... (Below threshold)

Being the contrarian here:

There was a time when doing your schoolwork and making passing grades were all that were required for a diploma. Then about a decade or so ago, they began this thing with the "exit exams."

Now, I'm one who has always been good at taking tests. In fact, my grades in H.S. were kinda "sucky," but I was a National Merit Scholarship Finalist because I could take the h*ll out of the PSAT and SAT exams, respectively.

Although comfortably above average intelligence, my lack of maturity coming out of high school was the root cause of my struggling to do well in my early years in college. I finally got my act together, but it took some failures to really shake me up.

But my TEST SCORES predicted that I would "do well in the college environment." Go figure.

Anyway, the problem I have with standardized testing that has now been implemented nearly universally is that I do believe tests of this kind don't really demonstrate learning, but rather how well you do regurgitating facts in a testing environment. As I said: I was really good at that.

My stepdaughter, who "graduated" from H.S. here in Texas in 1997, after moving here following her Junior year from Oklahoma, never received her diploma. She did her work, and she got adequate--not spectacular--grades. But she could never pass one of the two required Math modules on the test (then called the TAAS--Texas Assessment of Acquired Skills).

So she never received a diploma, and was very bitter about it. Had she stayed that last year in Oklahoma, she would have graduated with her class. As it is, even to this day she has no diploma (I believe she did get an equivalency eventually).

I understand the impetus behind standardized achievement tests. I'm just not so sure we haven't implemented them to put the onus back on the students, when we have such a huge problem with inadequate educators.

After all, can you tell me even ONE STATE that has implemented TEACHER EVALUATION testing? The NEA/AFT screams bloody murder whenever you even dare suggest it.






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