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Thread: Are Our Children Better Educated Because of MCAS Testing?

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    Default Are Our Children Better Educated Because of MCAS Testing?

    I wonder if the School Committee and Superintendent think that MCAS creates smarter (or "better") students. The number students in the Advanced level could also be a reflection of good test takers with good inherent knowledge. The number of students in the Warning or Needs Improvement level could be a testament to hard work for pupils who have special needs.

    An excellent teacher could feasibly have many poorly performing students in his/her class and a bad teacher could have students who attain Advanced levels.

    A poor student can achieve high scores and an excellent student could perform poorly -

    So I think that general lessons can gleaned from the results. It appears that math is weak area in the elementary school.

    It seems that if a tenured teacher consistantly has failing pupils, the MCAS results are a way to get around union rules and fire them. I would perfer that the administration be in charge of hiring and firing teachers and not our children's test results.

    What do you think?

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    As standardized tests go, MCAS is generally well-regarded.

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    Default No Child Left Behind

    Quote Originally Posted by Elizabeth Price View Post
    What do you think?
    The no child left behind act of 2001 is the driving force behind the reaction from the states to devise a way to standardize and measure the progress of learning in the school systems.

    I will quote Wiki...
    NCLB is the latest federal legislation that enacts the theories of standards-based education reform, which is based on the belief that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals can improve individual outcomes in education. The Act requires states to develop assessments in basic skills to be given to all students in certain grades, if those states are to receive federal funding for schools. The Act does not assert a national achievement standard; standards are set by each individual state.

    I will quote the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System
    Overview

    The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) is designed to meet the requirements of the Education Reform Law of 1993. This law specifies that the testing program must

    * test all public school students in Massachusetts, including students with disabilities and limited English proficient students;
    * measure performance based on the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework learning standards;
    * report on the performance of individual students, schools, and districts.

    As required by the Education Reform Law, students must pass the grade 10 tests in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics as one condition of eligibility for a high school diploma (in addition to fulfilling local requirements).

    In addition, the MCAS program is used to hold schools and districts accountable, on a yearly basis, for the progress they have made toward the objective of the No Child Left Behind Law that all students be proficient in Reading and Mathematics by 2014.

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    There are many factors that go into how well learning takes place in the classroom. Some of these are... but not limited to

    -- Socio economic environment of the household and parental involvement
    -- Experience and certification of the teachers
    -- Curriculum content, relevance and organization
    -- School safe environment
    -- School density vs. facilities
    -- Amount and type of ancillary help and support given by non-teaching staff
    -- Others...

    MCAS is a standardized testing battery based on expected learning norms.
    The expectation is that if quality learning is taking place then one does not have to teach to the test to get quality results.

    I suspect that the MCAS metric is less a metric of judgment of individual teachers and more a metric of how well the overall school performs its function. So I don't believe that this is a mechanism to fire.

    That being said, all professions have some degree of accountability and/or some metric used to measure performance and worthiness.

    There is no reason why teaching should be any different and, by law, its not.

    Some say that SAT's are biased and irrelevant. But if you don't take your SAT's you don't get into college (or most colleges).

    MCAS is a statewide accepted metric that is here and most probably here to stay in one form or another.

    Its good that we have such a standardized metric to gain some visibility into the performance of our schools.

    I agree with with Jeff when he says...
    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    As standardized tests go, MCAS is generally well-regarded.
    So yes I think our children are better educated because of MCAS testing and will continue to be better educated into the future as long as 'well-regarded' metrics exist to measure progress and provide a feedback mechanism.

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    Note that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) consists of reading, math, writing, and science assessments administered to 4th and 8th graders across the country.

    The National Center for Education Statistics has compared scores from individual state tests against scores on the NAEP. As a result, they are able to provide a measure of the difficulty of the individual state tests relative to one another.

    NAEP scores are available here. Here's a summary of how MA ranked.

    GRADE 4
    - Reading: 1st (2007: score of 236)
    - Math: 1st (2007: score of 252)
    - Writing: 2nd (2002: score of 170; 1st was 174)
    - Science: 4th (2005: score of 160; 1st was 161)

    GRADE 8
    - Reading: 1st (2007: score of 273)
    - Math: 1st (2007: score of 51)
    - Writing: 3rd (2007: score of 167; 1st was 175)
    - Science: 6th (2005: score of 35; 1st was 41)

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    Default Good Stuff

    I just love this type of discussion (which includes the related thread about CH/HH Elementary MCAS scores). Good question Elizabeth and I do think it appropriate and good that people try to come to terms with “education” and “testing”. That people can even think like this is amazing, and their personalities come through too. It’s great.

    Embarrassingly, who I am comes through too. I always feel, well, so simple, and like a digression. MCAS tests, aren’t they multiple-choice tests? And aren’t we actually testing the children’s skill in taking multiple-choice tests? Is this skill one of those 21st century process skills? Me, I used to do well on these type tests, but have I used this skill much as an adult? Need I answer. I’ve also wondered at what values people hold that might prompt them to want for their children, this test-taking skill above all else. I have thought a bit about how I would assess the student’s progress/success at school.

    If I was a parent tonight, I’d ask my child to write a one or two page paper on anything they were interested in. Take as long as desired, use resources, etc. but do it by themselves. Then I’d see what I think. I’d also ask to see them balance their checkbook. See how simple I am, but it might be illuminating.

    An aside: Alan, you said that SATs were required. I’ve found that people’s fears often limit what they think is possible. And I’m not the only eccentric person in my family. My son refused to take SATs and got into a good college (the one of his choice). He just said he wouldn’t, and they said OK. (I do understand that this wouldn’t work for everyone, but I think it’s instructive.) The possible!

    Oh, I do love those little charts, it makes things so easy to “see”. Thanks

    donBustin@verizon.net

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    Don, I'm not sure that I understand your point. Are you saying that there's no role for a test like MCAS?

    A Wayland Public School education is certainly much more than MCAS, and I haven't heard anyone suggest that it should be otherwise.

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    I said the following to imply that I wasn't totally against testing and saw some benefits for school committees and educators when evaluating their success or failure in comparison with others. And I also meant in my usual way that people might also profit from thinking about what they want from education for their children and whether, or how, testing fits into this thinking.

    Quote Originally Posted by don Bustin View Post
    ... I do think it appropriate and good that people try to come to terms with “education” and “testing”.
    Like with the “paper” proposal, I imagine one usual, first response by students to the request for a paper would be, “What do you want me to write about?” Sometimes, I think schooling can take away an individual's initiative. As a parent, will testing help me come to terms with this? Have I even thought about it? There are many, what I'd call, “institutionalized structural agendas”, that testing doesn't help illuminate.

    Jeff, what do MCAS test scores actually tell me about a student's ability to do what? (Other than as I said before about skill in taking multiple-choice tests.)

    donBustin@verizon.net

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    Quote Originally Posted by don Bustin View Post
    Jeff, what do MCAS test scores actually tell me about a student's ability to do what? (Other than as I said before about skill in taking multiple-choice tests.)
    Among other things, the MCAS tests measure reading comprehension, ability to do math, writing, and content area understanding. The test format includes true/false, multiple choice, short answer, and open response items. You can find sample MCAS questions here.

    Except perhaps indirectly, MCAS doesn't really attempt to address process skills (although one might argue that reading and math are more like process skills than content skills). In my 9/23 post in this thread, I referenced some resources in the area of process skills and process skill assessment. I don't know if any of these should be considered definitive, though. Nor do I know of any process skill tests that are well-regarded in the way that MCAS is, but that's not to say that they don't exist. I'd certainly like to learn more on this topic.

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    Default Macro and Micro Educational Vision

    Don - you are speaking my language which is to say thinking about education in larger sense. Jeff and Alan - I can tell you see the issue in a more specialized and specific way, using numbers and figures to try to quantify the results of the education our students receive in Wayland and Massachusetts. So, there are in essence two conversations going on. One is using MCAS to measure general school performance by state. And the other is a more philosophical question regarding the importance of MCAS, SATs and the like for our students.

    As a former middle school and high school teacher (albeit at private schools) I am a fan of student-directed education. I went to Sarah Lawrence College, which is well-known for it's somewhat "alternative" education. No grades (except A, B or C on transcripts for graduate school - 80% go on to school after getting a B.A.), 3 courses a trimester with a second "student-teacher" course in each subject. The second student & teacher course is to further the student's knowledge in an area of interest. In essence I took 6 courses a trimester. No tests generally except in math and science (although I did have tests in my ballet history class: "The Age of Diaghilev"; lots and lots (and lots) of writing. I wrote a 100 page paper on Piaget my freshman year for my Bio-Pychology class for example.

    So I hear all this hullabaloo about the MCAS and I am wary because I am not sure what skills my children are learning now that they weren't learning before. Are the Wayland teachers doing a better job now? I doubt it. I think they have been good for a pretty long time. Our children have enormous intelligence (particularly in Wayland!) that cannot be quantified by MCAS. I do not approve (as do many of the teachers and parents) of teaching to the test. Precious weeks of school are devoted to drills and test-taking strategies. Some people might love that, but I do not. I never studied for my SATs. If you take a SAT course you are not really testing your intelligence, you are learning to use you test-taking abilities to your advantage; nothing wrong with that, but it's not the point. BTW many colleges are making the SATs optional. High SAT scores often are attributed to family income and ability of student to pay for prep courses.

    MCAS in Wayland is less important than in poorer districts. I doubt children were being "left behind" here in droves before. To be sure, children are being left behind in poorer schools all over the country and I think MCAS and other state testing is way of punishing poorer performing schools without having to deal with the union. Comparing Weston v. Wellesley v. Wayland v. Harvard is a micro-micro task. A percentage point here, 5 % here - who cares? We should concerned with the kids in Lawrence and Holyoke.
    Last edited by Elizabeth Price; 10-10-2009 at 08:14 AM. Reason: typo

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    Default Education Metrics

    Elizabeth,

    MCAS in Mass was the metric reaction to NCLB. Other states had their own version of MCAS and because they are warehousing type tests then mostly have to be multiple choice but I remember my son having a written portion too.

    Even with multiple choice tests one has to have the skills or knowledge to solve the problem or know the answer. If you knew ZERO about the subject and you took guess's all of the time and there were 5 choices for each question then the random result would be 20% correct.

    I sat down and took a practice MCAS math class to see what the experience was like (since it was years since my last SAT) and I found that I had to really know what was going on to get the correct answer. In many cases, the answers are purposefully similar with only subtle differences and to get it right you had to know it right.

    So I think MCAS actually test for skills and knowledge.
    I believe that school systems should know what types of skills and knowledge that are going to be expected by those tests and they should design curriculum to deal with it. This is because the state is trying to normalize education or standardize education. Not conforming is simply not an option. Non conformance will not only hurt the school system, it will also hurt the students.

    Can one do better in MCAS by getting training outside of the class? Of course.
    Can one do better in a class by getting training outside of the class? Of course.

    And some of this is part of the comparative nature between the BLUE and RED schools. One of the factors I mentioned was socio-economic and its real. Wealth would tend to buy help outside the class and that would directly fold into the results. But its not the only factor and there are others.

    On the subject of classes with no grades. I was a HS Physics/Math teacher for 4 years and not only did I grow up in an environment of grades and competition but it was most certainly part of my own teaching tools. I even created my own form of multiple choice tests to augment problem solving in Physics which required derivations and logic transitions. The final answer had only minimal affect on the grade of that problem because the intermediate steps showed skills and knowledge.

    Obviously, we are from different experiences when it comes to grading philosophies. But indulge me when I say that an environment without grades or strict metrics and 80% just go on to the next step with a minimal degree of rigor is not the world that those students will enter. Those students will enter a world which outsources and forces Americans to compete against ever shrinking compensations overseas. American jobs have evaluations and feedback with their employers and those employers will rank and rate those employees. Those employees are in direct competition with each other and the rest of the world.

    I had a chance to send my youngest kid to a school environment without grades and he wanted it because he didn't like taking tests or being under the pressure of being evaluated.

    My answer was NO and it was a difficult position to take in my family.
    I believe that in the end, he will be better prepared for the world by taking a direction of measurement and feedback. As Dad it was my way.

    (And I'm such a good Dad)

    This is what MCAS is trying to do for the students, the teachers and the school institutions. I am all for it.

    I am concerned about the MCAS of Lawrence and Lowell and Hopkington and Brockton but I am much more concerned about the MCAS of Wayland.

    I am even more concerned that two schools in an affluent town, a few miles apart seem to be performing differently according to MCAS.

    Alan

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    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    MCAS in Mass was the metric reaction to NCLB.
    Alan, perhaps I'm misunderstanding your point, but the administration of MCAS predates NCLB by at least two years, which means that the planning for MCAS predates it by even more. This observation by no means takes away from the rest of your points.

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    On the subject of classes with no grades.
    I love the idea of classes without grades, but as Yogi Berra is alleged to have said, "In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is." For some students, a no-grades environment may well lead to better educational outcomes. For many students, however, my suspicion (I'm by no means an expert on the topic) is that it won't, in the same way that home schooling won't (the latter taking a special combination of skills and motivation on the part of parent and child). My leaning is to have no-grades schooling be the province of charter/private schools dedicated to that mission.

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    Default Thanks for the correction

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Alan, perhaps I'm misunderstanding your point, but the administration of MCAS predates NCLB by at least two years, which means that the planning for MCAS predates it by even more. This observation by no means takes away from the rest of your points.
    Standardized testing was the reaction of many states to the NCLB.
    Which was Jan 8, 2001... when did Mass MCAS go into effect?
    Perhaps we were ahead of the curve. Let me know

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    I love the idea of classes without grades, but as Yogi Berra is alleged to have said, "In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is." For some students, a no-grades environment may well lead to better educational outcomes. For many students, however, my suspicion (I'm by no means an expert on the topic) is that it won't, in the same way that home schooling won't (the latter taking a special combination of skills and motivation on the part of parent and child). My leaning is to have no-grades schooling be the province of charter/private schools dedicated to that mission.
    I would have loved no grades and no tests but thats not the world I live in.
    Do you?

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    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    Standardized testing was the reaction of many states to the NCLB.
    Which was Jan 8, 2001... when did Mass MCAS go into effect?
    Perhaps we were ahead of the curve. Let me know
    First MCAS tests were in 1998. NCLB didn't become official until 2001 (one of GWB's first acts as President). If I'm not mistaken, there's an exam in NY called the Regents--may also have pre-dated NCLB.

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    I agree with Elizabeth that there are multiple personality types on display here (but two examples – the super cyber-statistical automaton ubermensches and us other guys, the humanists). (grimace) And that’s OK, that’s the way a community is supposed to be. And we all get along. More importantly, I think it’s obvious that everyone who posts here truly wants all the children in town to have the brightest future they possibly can. Kim, the question about how to help special needs children is a good one, even without any tests.

    Thanks to a link from Jeff, I went to the MCACs site and took a test. Seventh grade math. Well, I did… OK. Not perfectly (wasn’t really sure if scientific notation was the number of zeroes, or decimal places, and had to make a psuedo-intelligent guess). So I suppose I’ll have to repeat 7th. Can you picture it? The kids would look over and wonder, “What’s that weird old guy doing over in the corner?” But of course, that’d never happen, they don’t let me within 100 yards of any school…

    Anyway, the test was interesting (it brought back such old memories) – it was quite the mental exercise. I could see much of the underlying bases for the questions – the what one would need to know, and then the understanding of the how to process it. Yet I couldn’t find a way to quantify why doing this mental exercise better (or worse, in my case) meant I was better “educated”. Don’t the tests only show how well someone does mental exercises? I for one don’t find myself using mental exercises like this at all in my everyday life. (It does seem someone should develop a MCAS test for our local leadership, yesterday’s Crier having more examples of them having difficulties with their mental exercise.)

    But my real question for today is, (I assume there has been some effort to know about the parents’ desires, right?) but, “have we ever asked the students what they want from their education?” I assume Alan would say, “Dad knows best.” But I’m not sure I’m down with that. Anybody else?

    By the way, wasn’t Disraeli convicted for treason or somesuch?

    donBustin@verizon.net

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    I don't know if we've asked our students what they want from their education, but it'd be fascinating to see their responses and how those responses vary by age. Who knows, perhaps we might even approach education differently based on what we'd find. I'll forward the idea to the Superintendent.

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