First, for giggles, let’s remember what the acronym MCAS stands for — Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System.
That’s right. A two-hour exam administered in March or May is supposedly “Comprehensive” — accurately summing up a year or more of education. To name one case, the 160 hours of education in world geography students received are assessed in a sit-and-spill exam that takes less than two hours. The state would like you to believe that is not only a decent assessment, but it is “comprehensive”.
So let’s see about the, ahem, system. If interested, check out the the Massachusetts curriculum frameworks, the documents that supposedly tell us what to teach. This “system” breaks down history into a highly detailed, nearly day-by-day listing of events. In ELA, there are about a dozen parallel strands (good luck trying to synthesize that document!). In math, we speak in vague generalities, such as urging teachers to explain how to chart a graph, something that can require a month of teaching. This is in no way a “system” if each subject is organized wildly differently.
I’m okay with something actually “comprehensive” if there are resources to make it happen. The chuckleheads at the state enjoy offloading the work of the DOE on individual teachers, as in the MCAS alt. Rather than design a smart, useful system that combines requirements into a small group of documents, they propounded complexities of requirements, then told overworking special ed. teachers to follow them with little guidance. I maintain a survey of the schools of Massachsetts would show 85% of them out of compliance with special education law, at least. I assign responsibility for this on the arcane laws, not the hardworking heroes in special ed, the toughest job in teaching today.
Exams are no mroe reflective of today’s world than is requiring girls to learn needlepoint, and boys how to operate a lathe. Nice things to be able to do, but not demonstrating skills or knowledge essential for life as a productive member of society, and a thoughtful citizen. I’ve had to take an exam in a vocational setting three times, and two of those were teaching tests. I’ve had to do research a lot, work collaboratively a great deal, produce a finished product (such as, oh, the time I earned my teaching license), organize spontaneously generated ideas in every job in my short life almost every day, but only three exams.
In the age of Google, having children memorize arcane trivia is pointless unless they plan on going on Jeopardy. (When is the last time you calculated a complimentary angle, differentiated between ancient Babylonian social classes, or listed prepositions? When is the last time you needed to know that trivia right now, we don’t have thirty seconds for you to hit the Internet or dictionary! ?) We don’t have time to teach them the skills they need because we’re supervising their memorization of the information they don’t need, crammed into a year robbed of at least 12 teaching days due to these very same MCAS exams.
If we are going to insist on a system whereby state bureaucrats (please no more private companies making bucks off of our children) judge students performance, here is what I’d like to see:
Each student must complete two assessments per term in each academic class. These assessments will increase in complexity as the student ages. The DOE established reasonable and clear requirements, adding components such as the use of technology in a certain number, or significant cross-curricular component, traditional sit-and-spill, etc. Copies of the assessment document, instructions, and rubric for the assessments for the first half of the year are due to the DOE on September 15th, the second half by December 15th.
Then in May, the state identifies which three assessments in each discipline will be evaulated by district. If any assessment proposed by a school is found unsatisfactory, then it will not be considered for state evaluation. If the state cannot identify three assessments that meet its criteria, the school is put on notice. Two years in a row, they are forced to administer a standardized test.
DOE employees compare the finished product(s) to the requirements, and the received grade. This allows them to identify student achievement while also calibrating educator standards. Students that constantly underperform expectations are put on the same warning system that we currently have.
Of course, I realize the major fault. There are serious control issues that I’d be interested in others’ input to resolve. Doing this away from the DOE’s eyes may make the end product suspect, and would open up the system to cheating much more open (though barely more pervasive) than what we have now. This may be a price worth paying to prepare students for this millenium rather than days gone by.
Also, I realize this is ambitious. I realize many school districts will just opt for more kill-and-drill testing that prepares students to be citizens of 18th century America. Fine — that’ll keep the educational parasite industry in business.
I realize that it would take certain individuals backing up their meaningless talk with money and political capital. It means cutting the money flow to Measured Progress, Inc. and hiring people for the DOE.* It means people at the DOE who know the difference between education and teaching, possibly turfing out the employees they have who see the inside of a classroom about as often as I see the inside of the Space Shuttle.
But that is what I’d like to see. You?
*To be more specific about my beef with Measured Progress — here is the true nature of the scam. they pull in thousands administering the exams, but that isn’t the real money. The cash that pays for thos eexecutive jacuzzis is the out-of-state folks they hire as “consultants”. These consultants, in exchange for a hefty check from schools, are sent out to hold “professional development” seminars that combine outdated educational theory with tips on how to instruct students to beat the tests that their employer writes.