If it isn't Broken...

By Kerry Healey


"There are innumerable things that need reform in Massachusetts. Let’s start with a political culture that has handed the last three House speakers federal indictments, add a growing number of senators and state reps dishonorably discharged fighting allegations of bribery, sexual assault and drunk driving. Milquetoasty ethics reforms have done nothing to stem the tide of disappointing revelations about politicians that were sworn to act in the public interest.
Or we could reform the pension system, so that we are not making promises to new State employees that tax-payers can ill afford. Or we could reform the way cities and towns buy healthcare insurance so mayors and city councils do not have to choose between laying off teachers and firefighters or paying double digit increases in healthcare premiums. All of these areas are ripe for reform.
But I open the Boston Globe last week and read instead that school officials are planning on reforming one of the few things we have unequivocally gotten right in Massachusetts: the MCAS! I’m stumped: Massachusetts has, for the last 6 years, been consistently placing first or tied for first in the nation in reading and math for 4th and 8th graders on the so-called National Report Card, the NAEP test. We also have out-performed the US on the prestigious international assessment of student Math and Science skills, theTIMSS test, where Massachusetts eighth graders tied for top in the world in math skills along side students from Singapore!
Yes, we have a huge and unforgivable gap between the scores in our best schools and our poorest performing urban school systems, but the MCAS has only highlighted that problem and created greater accountability for educators in under-performing schools. A new test could mask that gap.
State education officials quoted in the Globe mulled aloud whether to join with other states to create a national test similar to the MCAS—why would we ever take the risk-- and go to the expense--- of changing something that is working? Why change a test that has made the Massachusetts schools the envy of the nation and model for national education reform?
I worry that this is election year shenanigans, and that cynical politicians are looking for ways to court the teachers unions—who have always detested the high-stakes MCAS test. I hope I’m wrong. For the sake of our kid’s future and our state’s economy we must never play politics with the MCAS."

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