Susan's Blog

Monday, April 19, 2010

On High-Stakes Tests/Discrimination

Even though I am no longer a member of my town’s School Committee, I am still a part of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees and Superintendents email listserve.  A propos to a question posed by a School Committee Member from a different town, I wrote the response below.  Massachusetts is one of many states in our country that administers a high-stakes test that determines whether a student gets a diploma.  I have protested this policy ever since its inception, over 10 years ago.  Here is my argument.  If you agree, feel free to substitute your own information and state and send it along to your Board of Education, local newspaper, and state representatives.

What Massachusetts ought to do is administer the MCAS but not tie it to graduation, i.e., not make it a high stakes test but simply another standard by which to measure a student’s proficiencies.  Otherwise you do indeed get a system that discriminates — not only against better resourced school systems (per today’s Globe op ed) but also against different learning styles.

Let me give you an extreme but poignant example.  My own son, severely autistic, now 20, has benefited phenomenally from my town’s generous special education.  Despite great struggle, he has learned how to read, how to converse (limited, but still…), how to live in a group home, how to be street safe, and how to control his frustrations that come from such a communication deficit as his (he is no longer aggressive, thank God and thank a terrific education).  He also works 5 part-time jobs:  3 at his school, 2 at Papa Gino’s.  They are fading out his job coach because he has become so independent and capable.  He is now an educated person who can contribute to society.

If you measure how far Nat has come since he first started school at age 3, you would probably see off-the-charts progress!  And yet, because of our system, Nat will not get a diploma when he turns 22.  I don’t think he will care, but it always makes me sad because what does a diploma symbolize these days, if it won’t reward someone who has worked as hard and come as far as Nat?  To me it’s some sort of exclusive club membership, then — not at all what a public school education is supposed to be about.


Here they have to pass a Gr 11 literacy exam. Starting at Gr 3 with the EQAO, they know that 30+% of children are illitterate. The school system deems this “ok”. The same exists at Gr 11. So, they get a certificate which means “you stayed here 4yrs but you didn’t graduate”.

30% of 18yr olds… unemployable.

We’re already working at home to help the elder pass that literacy exam… He’s in Gr 5.


— added by farmwifetwo on Monday, April 19, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Here in Ohio, if you are on an IEP you have to take the graduation test and fail it two or three times BEFORE they will excuse you. Then you get to graduate, anyway. My HFA kid is only 12 (that’s why I’m fuzzy on the details) but I dread the harm to his self-esteem and self-confidence flunking this test multiple times will cause.

As it is now, every spring brings at least a month of high anxiety and “behaviors” as the end of April and the week of grade-level high-stakes tests near.

The kicker of course is that research shows that graduation tests accomplish nothing but pushing up the drop-out numbers. As for all those NCLB annual tests? Achievement’s been flat since they were instituted. If my mom was still alive, she’d be saying we all should have bought stock in the test publishing companies.

— added by Ohio Mom on Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 6:30 pm

Here here. Nat deserves the diploma. Period. Ceremony for achievements are important.

— added by Estee Klar on Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 10:42 pm

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