Category Archives: High Stakes Exit Exams

DESE Released Its Summary of MCAS Results; Media Reports Overlooked Some Troubling Numbers

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has released its annual summary of MCAS results for the exams taken last spring.  The media reports that I have read all seem to have missed some of the most important, and disturbing, numbers:

1.  For grade 4 English Language Arts, results remained stagnant.  54% of grade 4 students scored proficient or higher.  That number is unchanged from 2009, and is still below the 56% who scored proficient or higher in 2007.  Given that three years have passed, I do not view this as much progress.

2.  For grade 4 Mathematics, results also remained stagnant.  48% of grade 4 students scored proficient or higher – the same number as in 2009, and 2007.  We have shown no progress in grade 4 mathematics in three years.

3.  For grade 5 English Language Arts, results remained stagnant at 63%.  In fact, the number has been 63% in 2010, 2009, and 2007.   Stagnation is not progress.

4.  For grade 5 Mathematics, results rose a whopping 1% since 2009, from 54% to 55%.

5.  For grade 8 English Language Arts, results remained stagnant at 78% from 2009 to 2010.

6.  For grade 10 English Language Arts, the number scoring proficient or higher declined from 79% to 78% over the past year.

7.  For grade 10 Mathematics, the number scoring proficient or higher remained stagnant at 75% over the past year.

8.  For all racial subgroups in grades 8 and 10, the number scoring proficient or higher either remained stagnant or declined.

9.  Results for students with disabilities showed regression by 4% in English Language Arts in both grades 8 and 10.

10.  Results for students with disabilities showed regression by 1% in Mathematics in grade 10.

I have never been a big fan of MCAS, especially in the Commonwealth’s use of MCAS as a graduation requirement.  These results do nothing to change my opinion.

Please visit my web site for more information about the Law Office of James M. Baron: http://www.lawbaron.com.

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Timberlane Regional School District in NH Does Away with Midterms and Finals

This seems like such a great idea, but I have never heard of this being done before.  The Timberlane Regional School District in New Hampshire has decided, effective immediately, that there will no longer be any midterm or final exams within the school district.  They are doing this for the purpose of adding eight additional teaching days during the year.  As long as students are still expected to learn the same material, and can prove to the teacher that they have indeed mastered the material as expected, I really like this idea of adding additional teaching time to the year, and removing high stress exams.  This is particularly important for special education students, and students who may have mastered the material, but get so anxious about exams that they don’t test well.

Comparing Massachusetts to New Hampshire, lately it seems that New Hampshire is one step ahead of Massachusetts in terms of doing the right thing for the education of its students.  One other important area where New Hampshire has implemented a policy that I consider to be far better than a similar policy in Massachusetts is in regard to the implementation of NCLB (No Child Left Behind).  NCLB requires testing of students to ensure that the school system is providing a proper education for the students.  It does not require the passing of high-stakes exams as a requirement for a high school diploma.  Massachusetts, for some reason, has twisted NCLB such that the required testing has become a requirement for a high school diploma (MCAS).  New Hampshire has made it very clear that it has no plans to implement such a high-stakes approach to the NCLB requirement.

So why did I bring up the issue of MCAS in Massachusetts?  In Massachusetts, schools teach to the test so much, because of the high stakes aspect of MCAS, that they unfortunately don’t have enough time to teach much else.  Maybe that is an oversimplification, but I hear over and over from both teachers and students how frustrating it is that so many days are dedicated to the MCAS material rather than to other useful materials that students really should learn.  Given the Massachusetts approach, the opportunity to add 8 additional teaching days – perhaps unrelated to MCAS – sounds like a wonderful idea.  Students in Massachusetts have enough stress as it is.  As long as there is a way to ensure proper evaluation of students, I like what Timberlane is doing, and wish that Massachusetts would implement a similar policy.

Please visit my web site for more information about the Law Office of James M. Baron: http://www.lawbaron.com.

Portfolio High School Testing – Good or Bad?

Many states with high stakes exit exams, such as Massachusetts with its MCAS test, offer an alternative method of testing for certain special education students.  This alternative testing usually involves schools helping students to create a portfolio to be submitted to the state education department.  The portfolio method is used to help students who cannot properly show what they have learned via a traditional pencil and paper test.  In theory, it sounds like a fair option.  The reality may be much different, though.

According to “Disability Scoop,” Virginia has decided to eliminate its alternative portfolio testing.  Why?  Disability Scoop states that the alternative method was “overused and produces too many positive results… ”  (Shawn Heasley, “Concerns Prompt End to ‘Alternative’  Portfolio Test, April 23, 2010, http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2010/04/23/virginia-portfolio-test/7781/).

Massachusetts has just the opposite problem.  In Massachusetts, children fail what is referred to as MCAS-Alt at an alarmingly high rate.  The following information combines grades 10, 11 and 12.  In 2009, there were 909 English Language Arts portfolios submitted, yet only 5 (0.5%) earned Needs Improvement or higher (the minimum eligible for graduation).  Similarly, out of 918 Mathematics portfolios, only 6 (0.6%) earned Needs Improvement or higher.  Finally, in Science and Technology, out of 951 submissions, only 14 (1.5%) earned Needs Improvement or higher.  There are no numbers to indicate how many, if any, “portfolio” students graduated.  These and more statistics can be found in a publication of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education called “2009 MCAS Alternate Assessment (MCAS-Alt): State Summary of Participation and Performance.”  This report is available at the following URL: http://www.doe.mass.edu/mcas/alt/09statesum.pdf.

Please visit my web site for more information about the Law Office of James M. Baron: http://www.lawbaron.com.