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Guest Column: The Standardized Test Trap

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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Once again, we find ourselves at a crossroads with Public Education in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The last big shift was the Education Reform Act of 1993, when several changes were implemented, including the high stakes test known as MCAS. Since that time, Massachusetts has led the nation in Math and English Language Arts (ELA) test scores. Hooray for us!

Not so fast. What we have done to achieve this goal is simply teach to the test. We frame our lesson plans to use the same terminology that a student will see on the test. We add double blocks of Math and English so that students will get 90 minutes or more per day of the subject. We make Art, Science and Physical Education half-year classes or, in many cases, not available at all for students. In an era of childhood obesity, we cut the number of physical education teachers in half in many school districts. Art and Science teachers are required to incorporate the same language in their lesson as the Math and English teachers because students need to be familiar with words on the test. So, 21 years later, here we are, with the best scores in the nation.

Now we are faced with another mandated standardized test for public education, but this time it’s from the federal government, and it’s known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). The PARCC test was born out of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, an effort adopted by the federal government with the support of numerous states, designed to craft standards across states in order to measure student readiness for higher education or the workforce. No one can deny that testing our students is a necessity and a good thing. My greatest concern is that PARCC is just a continuation of a bad practice we have already mastered with the MCAS. We are creating test takers, not well-rounded students.

Even more of a concern is the top-down method by which these tests are mandated and created. How many actual classroom teachers have input on these tests?

I attended a PARCC presentation at Minnechaug High School last month, and we were told that PARCC is just a way of upgrading MCAS and bringing it into the modern era. I’m not buying that argument. Public education should be a local pursuit. The community in which you live should be driving its local school district with support from the state and federal government. PARCC is the complete opposite of that theory. It’s the feds reaching into your students’ classrooms and literally dictating how the teacher teaches.

Let’s not fall into this cookie-cutter approach towards education. Let it remain a local initiative with support from the other levels of government. Each community has its own style and should not be dictated to when it comes to educating our youngest citizens.

Chip Harrington is a member of the Ludlow School Committee and a candidate for the 1st Hampden and Hampshire District state senate seat.

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