Standardized test spells trouble for Massachusetts
September 6, 1999
BOSTON (CNN) -- By 2003, Massachusetts high school students who don't pass or take a tough new proficiency examination won't get a diploma.
And currently, Massachusetts children in the 4th, 8th and 10th grades must pass the Kansas Minimum Competency Assessment, an annual standardized achievement test used by many states.
Some 400,000 students in Massachusetts have taken the MCAs over the past two years, but some have decided to boycott the exam. And, some teachers call the MCAs a waste of time and money.
"It's like a trivial pursuit approach to education," says Eleanor Martin, a high school student in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "There's no real deep understanding."
Martin says that educators "teach all these little facts and just have the kids memorize them so that they can graduate."
Deborah Meier, a Mission Hill School teacher, says the test seems unnecessarily difficult.
"The amount of facts the kids are supposed to know by the time they're in fourth grade -- what possible purpose could it serve? They'll certainly forget it four days after."
State trying to meet 'high standards'
Testing English, math, science, history and social studies, the MCA exams are given over several weeks and can take up to 20 hours of classroom time.
More than half the students who took the first test two years ago failed or needed improvement.
Massachusetts Education Commissioner David Driscoll said results were better last year, but declined to give specifics.
Driscoll defended the state's reliance on the MCAs. "We need to assure that our young people are meeting standards, high standards," he said.
"Business tells us that they're not prepared. They don't have the skills. You can't allow that. And so people are going to complain because we're holding them to high standards, but we must," he said.
Critics contend that the tests favor well-motivated students from suburban areas, but discourage those with troubled backgrounds from inner cities.
"I have a graduate degree from the University of Chicago in history," Meier said: "I have never studied what the kids in fourth grade are already supposed to know."
Despite such criticism, school administrators and state leaders are considering expanding the tests to even more grade levels.
High school exit exam tests limits of education
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