Boston Schools are right in the middle of current concerns over stagnated student scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment Exam (MCAS). For the second year in a row, test score are flat, causing concern to both Boston Schools and the state of Massachusetts.
The main concern is over MCAS results for grades 3-8, and especially at the third grade level. Boston Schools tend to mirror the state, with some minor differences. The only grade level that showed improvement overall was tenth grade. An impressive 84% of students passed the English and math portions on their first attempts.
Why all the pressure for Boston Schools to perform to these high stakes testing criteria? The 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act requires all students to perform at a “proficient” level on state given tests by 2014. Proficient is the second highest rating given. So two years of stagnant test scores concern officials of Boston Schools.
Both the NCLB act and MCAS tests inspire heated political debate in Boston Schools and the political arena. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has been a staunch supporter of MCAS testing. He most notably threatened to take funding away from New Bedford Schools last year when the district wanted to award diplomas to students who had not passed the MCAS.
Current Governor Deval Patrick is sending a different message to Boston Schools. Patrick and others appeared yesterday before the Joint Commission of Education to urge members to use a variety of diagnostic methods to determine graduation status, rather than rely solely on state testing. Many Boston Schools’ teachers have long argued that portfolios of student work, report cards, term papers and creative expression of materials should be included in an overall assessment.
Romney, and other testing proponents, see this attitude as part of the problem. During his tenure as governor Romney accused the teachers’ union and the democratic led legislature of hindering progress when they refused to approve his initiative of merit pay for teachers. This battle between accountability, pay for performance, and recognition of multiple learning styles represents the crux of the disagreement of both sides nationally and in Boston Schools.
So what do the recent flat scores mean to Boston Schools? Experts say the problems could lie in many areas: poorly trained teachers, poorly paid teachers, racial gap issues, class sizes, or lack of preschool preparation. The fact is that educators, administrators and teachers in the Boston Schools don’t have a one size fits all explanation for the problem, or an answer for it. The most likely outcome will be more pilot programs to address these issues, and actions based on the results of the programs. Boston Schools is one of the most watched districts in the nation due to its size, inner city schools, racial mix, and proximity to some of the best universities in the nation.