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Column: State test interrupts curriculum flow, sets unfair standards

by Connor Vasu
Seven days out of the school year are taken up by the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, a state-mandated standardized test we are all familiar with. These days can be torture for those taking the test, and they also interrupt the schedule.

Without these seven testing days and countless others for review, the flow of the curriculum would improve.

In order for students to receive higher grades on the MCAS, teachers are forced to cover MCAS-specific material instead of teaching their curriculum. In Power English and some other courses, teachers have less flexibility with the curriculum because class stops to pander to Massachusetts’ standardized tests. This is due to the tests’ importance on teachers and students.

Likewise, the MCAS is often the only bellwether of educational performance in the eyes of the State. Instead of looking at year-round grades for students who do not test well, the state looks at this one standardized test and judges students, schools and teachers on it. This judgment affect students who do not test well, and may even force them to take a class they do not want to take.

Unfortunately, standardized tests figure into students’ individual performance as well as the performance of the school. If students fail the MCAS, they will be forced to take an MCAS review class the next year. For example, if a senior has not yet shown proficiency in math, he will be recommended to take Senior MCAS MATH, according to the Opportunities handbook.

If a school routinely underperforms at the MCAS, it may face decreasing financial assistance from the state. This only makes the problem worse. Schools with underperforming teachers and students need more assistance, financially and otherwise.

Schools also need to meet an annual yearly progress, set by the state. If a school does not meet these arbitrary thresholds for a few years in a row, then the school could be shut down, which just creates more of an educational problem.
Some people contend that the MCAS helps chart the performance of the entire State from year to year. They say that there are benefits to charting performance relative to the rest of the State. Comparing performance from district to district and from student to student can help the State and the school districts see the big educational picture.

However, these benefits are outweighed by the gains in instructional time, which would occur if the MCAS did not exist. If days of review and days of MCAS were normal school days, students would learn more. In addition, late arrival days weaken the curriculum by forcing teachers to put off lesson plans.

For students taking the test, half a week of classes is lost, which impedes learning time further.

Furthermore, only looking at a standardized test to compare students does not take into account the students’ overall performance. A better way of looking at a student is to look at their overall grade in a subject.

The MCAS also flags students in danger of failing. But finals, midterms and grades already serve the purpose of flagging these failing students.
Finally, room bumps and switched schedules can wreak havoc on teachers and students not proctoring or taking the test. This makes the students lose time in their classes and puts teachers in completely new classrooms for upwards of a week.
Without the seven days of MCAS and innumerable review days, teachers and students would be free to teach and learn uninterrupted.

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