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Time to get rid of MCAS

Posted by Rob Anderson  September 20, 2011 04:02 PM

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classroom.JPGRemember the old joke? "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." And the doctor replies: "So don't do that."

Well, the MCAS scores released today in Massachusetts are no joke, with 82 percent of the state's schools and 91 percent of school districts missing performance targets in the No Child Left Behind Legislation. But maybe the solution offered by that hypothetical doctor isn't so stupid after all.

Maybe we shouldn't be blaming stupid kids, irresponsible parents, greedy unions, lazy teachers, or sugary soda. Maybe it's the MCAS test itself. Maybe the idea of standardized testing is well-meaning but dumb. Clearly it doesn't work.

Reasonable minds obviously differ on this topic. And, yes, there are some extraordinary school districts where MCAS scores are rising. What we don't hear about, though, is the fact that many young and idealistic teachers leave their profession within the first five years. Or the stories about the many expensive, useless, energy-draining, and de-moralizing struggles — of which there are many — in districts where children come from families who don't speak English at home, or don't even know what school is because they are 17 and have spent the last several years living in a refugee camp. Or they have mild disabilities or have just come here from a country at war.

You can be middle class and privileged and also do terribly in the MCAS. Haven't we all met or raised bright, creative children who rebel and shut down at the mere thought of studying for standardized tests? Ask any mother about how kids are born with their own personalities, skill sets, maturation rates, and motivation. Some can be early talkers, early readers, great writers, and they will never ever learn algebra or how to spell. Ever.

So yes, No Child Left Behind had a catchy title and was well-meaning. Public policy wonks and legislators and philanthropists and some educators and parents love it.

But doctor, it hurts when I do this.

Boston Globe file photo: A student at the Nathan Hale Elementry School in Roxbury cleans a white board for his teacher.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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