Bob Foley: Measurement is key | Columns


Last weekend, Sun Chronicle detailed the latest discussion on MCAS. The eternal essence of the MCAS controversy is its unfairness, its lack of usefulness and its stress.

I haven’t been involved since teaching in high school, but I’m confident the content and administration haven’t changed significantly.

Here’s how the testing process works.

A common complaint about MCAS and other standardized tests is that teachers are forced to “teach until the test.”

Such observations cannot be interpreted as a criticism of the test or a reason that has anything to do with the validity of the test. On the contrary, any teacher who thinks students are being harmed because class time is spent “teaching until the test” is clearly out of step with state learning standards.

Readers may recall the decision to “communize” learning in accordance with Common Core standards. In general, common core specifics were more rigorous than they were in some states, and in higher education performance states like Massachusetts less demanding. The point is that every state, whether it explicitly follows the Common Core Standards, has learning standards.

In our just Commonwealth, we have curriculum frameworks that detail explicit learning standards for each subject for each grade level. Each school district is expected to recognize these standards and teach according to the defined curriculum.

These standards, explicitly described in detail, explain exactly “…what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach.” Although the standards focus on what is most essential, they do not describe everything that can or should be taught. Much of it is left to the discretion of teachers and curriculum developers.

These words come from state math standards and perhaps suggest where the concerns are coming from. There seems to be confusion between what to teach and “how”. There is not the slightest question as to the minimum content of what students will be expected to “know and be able to do”.

If there is time available, the regulations do not prohibit a deeper reach.

Noteworthy Issues: The MCAS Graduation Requirement Test is administered in the spring of a student’s sophomore year. The content of the tests is therefore material that has been delivered over approximately nine and a half years of schooling. Consider this a requirement for graduation from grade 12. If you haven’t been to school for a few decades, you might look at the test questions and consider them difficult. However, for a reasonably prepared student, getting a passing grade should be a walk in the park. For the huge percentage of students who do not achieve the required minimum score, it is obvious that their preparation, for whatever reason, was inadequate. But be aware that an unlimited number of retakes are allowed.

Some additional thoughts: Comments are popping up that some students are not good test takers. That’s probably true, but taking tests in a controlled environment is part of the educational experience. Students should be prepared for these types of events. Another problem is that some students do not do well under the stress of timed tests. Unless something has changed, students have unlimited time to complete MCAS.

The test questions relate directly to state-defined learning standards. Explicit reference is made to the standard explored with each question. There is therefore no validity in students being somehow short of change if teachers are to “teach until the test.” In fact, it’s not just an occasional occurrence, but a requirement.

Considering the money invested in the education process, that we think it is enough, there must be accountability.

Recent MCAS findings demonstrate that the COVID-inspired remote learning experience was inadequate. Eliminating or even modifying the existing evaluation process is denying that there is a problem to be solved. Specifically, how can we begin to catch up on a few years of substandard education.

Logically, since we have the previous MCAS results as a reference, it seems obvious that we continue the existing testing process to see where we are and how the remediation procedures should be directed. Measurement is essential. No one can be held responsible for performance beyond the defined minimum standards.

In any educational experience, there is always room for improvement, but given the events and results of the past two years or so, now is not the time to change the assessment process.

Bob Foley, a Mansfield resident, former Navy pilot, high school math teacher and engineer, writes here every Friday.

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