Massachusetts Standardized Testing To Get Liberal Overhaul

by Sal on November 20, 2008

in Politics

Being a resident of the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, I get frustrated with government fairly often.  As bad as the mess is in Washington, DC, it is nothing compared to the mess on Beacon Hill or with the people of this state, who year after year hand their government over to the same people who consistently mess it up.  Now, we are taking a flawed but benificial program, MCAS, and attempting to mess that up as well.

For those of you who are not familiar with Massachusetts, MCAS is the state’s education standardized testing system.  All third through eighth as well as tenth graders must complete a version of the test, and eleventh graders have to pass it to graduate.  It is one of the more successful education reforms in the country, and has propelled MA to among the top school systems in the nation in the areas of Reading, Math, Science, and Writing.  Indeed, an external study has concluded that it is the best standardized testing system in the nation.  The left has criticized the tests, because they argue the typical line that teachers “teach to the test” instead of provide a real education.  While there is some truth to that, the solutions proposed by the teacher’s union and others on the left is to remove the graduation requirement, dumb-down the test, or make it more subjective.

Currently, the test is a standardized test that is graded and scored by an outside, private firm.  Yet the state MCAS board is now proposing that the test be altered to include science experiments, group projects, and oral presentations.  The goal of these changes is for the state to measure such objective skills as “global awareness, cultural competency, and information literacy.”

The problem with these metrics are they are simply too subjective.  There is no way to measure one objectively, for example, in oral presentations across a state’s worth of school districts.  Standardized tests as a tool need to be used to measure objective criteria.  Additionally, the cost involved in implementing such a system would probably outweigh any discernible benefit.

MCAS does have its flaws.  It does have the capacity to lend itself to the “teaching to the test” mentality.  This could be corrected by making the test more random, and testing on basic curriculum requirements and knowledge requirements rather than bullet points.

Standardized testing has been a key component to the improvement seen in the public school systems in the last decade.  While America still lags far behind in education against the rest of the world, it has made some steady improvements thanks to some conservative reforms.  Unfortunately, the liberalism included in the George Bush/Ted Kennedy No Child Left Behind Act has stunted the growth of this progress.  A new generation of Conservative thought leaders in education is needed to help invigorate the education system with new ideas.  Neutering the MCAS is not one of them.

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