The value of using MCAS scores to determine graduation readiness and school oversight status is getting several enthusiastic tire-kicks. The state’s largest teachers union is charging away at a ballot measure that would remove the graduation requirement component of the 10th grade MCAS, and similar legislation known as the Thrive Act is being considered on Beacon Hill.
Critics of high-stakes testing say the state’s current evaluation system misjudges the value of testing in education.
“If we think about the theory of change here, that if we hold schools accountable, if we hold students accountable for results on standardized tests, we will therefore see higher scores, right?” Jack Schneider, professor at UMass Amherst’s College of Education, said on The Codcast. “The theory of change there really does center around the idea that people aren’t trying their hardest, that what they need is a little bit more pressure. They need a sword hanging over them. And I think that that doesn’t actually square with what we know about teachers and students.”
Massachusetts has an unusual graduation requirement system – schools are permitted wide latitude in creating and structuring curricula subject to state guidelines, but Massachusetts is the only state where just one test alone stands between a student and diploma. So removing the 10th grade MCAS would leave very little predictably for Massachusetts graduates unless it is replaced with another system.
The Thrive Act would replace the MCAS graduation requirement with district-level determinations of student competency and prevent the state from taking over districts with low performance on the MCAS. Critics say that it will introduce a system with hundreds of disjointed standards.
Some Advanced Placement classes and New York Performance Standards Consortium suggest to Schneider that “it’s possible to have standards aligned performance tasks – meaningful student work that gives you a whole lot more information about what students know and can do. And if that is more aligned with the curriculum, that is going to be more aligned with what students feel to be genuinely valuable and a part of their education.”
To be fair, even proponents of removing the MCAS as a graduation requirement and oversight metric say that testing can serve vital functions in education. And standardized testing is a federal requirement for K-8 students.
“I think that there is no significant harm in continuing with MCAS provided that there aren’t stakes, or that the stakes are quite low, or the exact opposite of high stakes where actually resources follow low test scores,” Schneider said.
Grades and tests communicate a student’s academic status to parents, teachers, admissions officers, and employers, as well as letting students themselves know how well they are absorbing material. They can motivate and orient students during their time in school. And standardized testing formats help create synchronization, where students can transition smoothly between grades and schools with a good sense of where they stack up.
“Again, there are better ways to do it, but we can’t just wish away grades, test scores, and transcripts. Because they do serve these purposes,” said Schneider, who recently co-authored the book Off The Mark: How Grades, Rating, and Rankings Undermine Learning.
But the justifications for using MCAS as a predictor for outcomes later in life – like its correlation with higher income and educational attainment – doesn’t sit well with Schneider.
“I think that people who are making the argument that MCAS is a predictor of things like higher income are really missing the bigger picture here,” he said. “The best predictor of future income is current income. So if you want to know how students are going to be doing later in life financially, let’s just look at their parents’ bank accounts. Now, I don’t think that’s a particularly useful exercise for our schools to be engaged in.”
Prize in doubt: One of the biggest prizes of the emerging offshore wind industry – a plant to supply subsea transmission cable – is hanging by a thread because of a zoning condition being pressed in the town of Somerset.
– The condition would require all of Prysmian Group’s ships to operate using electricity – not diesel engines – while loading cable in port. Prysmian has pledged to retrofit all of its ships to run on electricity, but says it needs an exception when it hires third-party ships. The zoning board initially rejected any exceptions but under pressure from the Healey administration flipped and decided to reconsider that earlier vote at an upcoming meeting.
– The stakes are high, both for the state’s fledgling offshore wind industry and the town, which badly needs the tax revenue from the plant. But many town residents are tired of the long history of Brayton Point pollution and are drawing a line in the sand. Read more.
Vineyard Wind wins: A federal judge rejects two more legal challenges to Vineyard Wind. Read more.
Big data to rescue: Kosuke Imai and Ruth Greenburg of Harvard are using big data to make elections fairer. Read more.
Electric bus challenge: Massachusetts Inspector General Jeffrey Shapiro warns that the push for electric school buses faces a procurement bump in the road. Read more.
Let the auditors in: Gretchen Carlson and Julie Roginsky of Lift Our Voices back Auditor Diana DiZoglio’s campaign to audit the Legislature and ask what lawmakers have to hide. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
The state’s shelter crisis has pushed up the price of hotel rooms and may be squeezing out some people who were staying in the rooms previously. WBUR found one mother and son who could no longer afford their hotel room and are now living out of their car.
The neo-Nazi group NSC-131 protested outside Gov. Maura Healey’s home in Arlington yesterday, yelling anti-immigrant slogans. (Boston Globe)
Cambridge is considering changes to its zoning laws to promote more housing, but the move is facing lots of pushback because it would do that by greatly increasing height limits on buildings. (Boston Globe)
Upton may change the name of its top governing board from “Board of Selectmen” to the gender-neutral “Select Board” under a proposed Town Meeting article. (MetroWest Daily News)
The Gaza border remains closed for aid deliveries, heightening concerns about a humanitarian crisis as Israel prepares for a ground invasion after the Hamas terrorist massacre of Israeli civilians. (New York Times)
Several public amenities promised in the lease for Worcester’s Polar Park have not yet become reality, including concerts, revenue-generating events, and a bike share program. (Worcester Telegram)
Globe columnist Shirley Leung offers a plug for the Fairmount Line on the MBTA commuter rail system, a rare case where ridership is up over pre-pandemic levels and service is free for the next weeks during the shutdown of the Red Line’s Ashmont branch.
The MBTA is facing sharp rebuke from Worcester authorities over controversial changes to the Heart to Hub express train between Worcester and West Natick, with new stops adding to the trip time. (Worcester Telegram)
The company decommissioning the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant says the job should be done at least four years ahead of schedule. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
Even as the city experienced two gun homicides over the weekend, Suffolk DA Kevin Hayden said the arrest last week of two repeat offenders on gun charges illustrates the ways a small hard-core group is driving gun violence in Boston. (Boston Herald)
Circulation of the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester is down about 80 percent over the last decade. (Media Nation)
The Berkshire Eagle wins a national award for editorial writing. (Berkshire Eagle)