Saturday, February 26, 2000
State modifies MCAS guidelines
By Sandy Coleman
Come April, students taking MCAS exams won't find out
the questions early and pass them along to friends in other districts and teachers won't
be tempted to take the essays home to review, say state education officials.
School officials are hoping to stop some of the
"improprieties" that surfaced after the 1999 test, leading to eight teachers
But just because some educators break the rules, there
is no reason to shy away from standardized tests, said Robert Brenner, who was part of an
investigative unit that recently uncovered a standardized testing scandal in New York
dating back a decade.
"There needs to be a clear directive from the top
that this type of cheating will not be tolerated. The stakes if you get caught have to be
as high as the stakes are for improving performance," Brenner said yesterday.
Brenner is with the Special Commissioner of
Investigation office in New York that discovered 52 educators at 32 different schools were
allegedly involved in cheating on tests given to third-, fourth-, sixth- and
eighth-graders. In some cases teachers gave correct answers, finished sentences on essays
and pointed out wrong answers while students were taking tests.
The solution for New York, as well as other states
facing similar testing improprieties, is to make schools more accountable, Brenner said.
New York is working on implementing changes including ensuring that tests are not
delivered to class until right before it is to be given and having independent monitors
review how the test is being administered.
Massachusetts' measures aren't as drastic, but
hopefully the simple revisions will be enough to discourage any rule-breaking, said Alan
Safran, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Education.
Allegations included charges that teachers and
administrators in at least 19 schools violated some of the guidelines, from letting
students revise answers to telling colleagues in other schools what the questions were.
While the Department of Education does not call the
incidences cheating because they did not involve students copying the answers of others,
they acknowledge the behavior was inappropriate.
"We take the allegations seriously," Safran
said. But "there were very few cases relative to the number of schools, 1,800, and
the number of kids, a quarter of a million."
Ninety percent of the infractions cropped up around
the long composition, he said. Because the test was administered over two days chosen by
the schools, questions leaked out and were passed around.
Now the long composition will be given on the same day
in all the schools. "We have closed down that loophole," Safran said. "It
provided an opportunity for mischief in a small number of cases."
Training sessions in March on how to administer the
Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests will review and reenforce proper
test-taking guidelines for administrators, teachers and principals. Principals are
responsible for watching over the test.
A comprehensive review should still be done to ensure
the current testing procedures are adequate, Roberta Schaefer, vice chairwoman of the
state Board of Education, said yesterday.
However, there are commonly accepted rules for taking
any test, she said.
"I don't think they include giving back the exam
after it's been collected for them to make corrections," she said. "The
superintendent and principal need to send a clear message to their teachers."
The Boston Herald
Saturday, February 26, 2000
A Boston Herald editorial
Euphemism hides MCAS cheating
Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that a few teachers
helped their students cheat on the MCAS tests last spring. What is surprising and
appalling is that the Department of Education refuses to use the word
Boston magazine revealed the incidents in 19
communities after spending eight months prying documents out of the department that should
have been freely available. In response, Commissioner David Driscoll said "some
testing conditions" did not "follow our precise guidelines" but the
department had been unable to uncover any "deliberate intent to influence test
Well, what can you call giving students two days to
work on the essay part of the test that should have been done in one? That happened in
Billerica, Cambridge, Lexington, Methuen, Foxboro and Stoughton. What can you call giving
out the essay topic in advance? That happened in Brookline, Dover, Longmeadow, Lunenberg
and Winthrop. Or handing tests back and telling students to do more? That happened in
Boston and Melrose.
It's pure sophistry to argue that some teachers must
have thought these tactics were OK since the tests are untimed.
If this much cheating (all across the socioeconomic
spectrum, it must be noted) was uncovered in a year when the results didn't count, what
can the state expect in 2001, when the 10th-grade tests will count for graduation in 2003?
Teachers have their own grapevine. Of course most are
honest, but when word spreads that So-and-So got away with this and Whatsisname's
superiors looked the other way at that, the temptation to cheat could spread.
The department, the Board of Education and city and
town school committees must make clear that cheating will bring severe penalties and a
retest under fair conditions. Driscoll's refusal to call a spade a spade -- he'd insist
that it's a personal dirt-removal tool -- is not encouraging.
Thursday, February 24, 2000
MCAS: Stay the course
Teachers union fails to advance proficiency aim
It is disappointing that the state's largest teachers
union has decided to ratchet up its campaign against the high-stakes testing program that
is the benchmark of educational accountability.
Citing proposed changes in mathematics and history
curriculums, the Massachusetts Teachers Association is pushing for a delay in the
requirement that students pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests to
qualify for a high school diploma.
"We're asking the kids to jump over the high bar
on a single test," said Stephen Gorrie, MTA president.
The MCAS actually is a series of tests taken over
several days, not "a single test." It was created as a yardstick by which all
schools could measure their efforts, and independent analysis has validated the results.
The four MCAS score ranges -- advanced, proficient,
passing, failing -- are intended to show strengths and weaknesses of students in English,
math, science/technology and history.
Ideally, all students would finish high school with a
"proficient" or "advanced" education.
But because this is a new measuring stick, the state
Board of Education has set this "high bar" at its lowest possible level --
anything better than a "failing" score on the MCAS in 10th grade. Students who
fail can try again in grades 11 and 12, in order to graduate with their peers.
Moreover, whatever changes occur in the math and
history curriculums will not affect the MCAS scores of any students currently in high
school and, according to Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll, even the changes for
the class of 2005 and beyond will be limited as factors in the test.
After seven years and billions of dollars in funding
increases for public schools, Massachusetts residents have a right to expect positive,
measurable results. While not the only yardstick of performance for students and school
systems, MCAS does provide a reliable, statewide measurement of whether children have
built the foundation of knowledge and skills they will need to succeed.
The state Board of Education must stay with its
decision to require passage of the test to qualify for a diploma, if that traditional
certificate is to signify a meaningful standard of educational achievement.