Bring a No. 2 Pencil, Please

In a recent editorial "This is only a test" ( DN 02.17.03), I asked readers to share their worst test-taking experiences. For a sample of some of the best accounts of test-taking gone awry, see the MAIL section in this issue (pg 14).

Speaking of tests, we've got a big fight here in Massachusetts over the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System). Instituted in response to the Education Reform Law of 1993, MCAS is a standardized test that is administered to students in grades 4, 6, 8, and 10. This year's graduating class is the first one that's required to pass both the math and English parts of the MCAS in order to graduate. About 10% of high school seniors here could walk away without a diploma this year-though they have one more chance at a retest in May.

Lawyers for six students who failed the exam have already filed a lawsuit, claiming that the test is discriminatory. Some state lawmakers are trying to eliminate the MCAS as a graduation requirement. And several school districts have passed resolutions stipulating that students who fail the exam but fulfill all other graduation requirements will receive a diploma.

That's not the answer, people. I went to an inner-city school, where many of my fellow students slept through classes or skipped them altogether. I don't recall a single one not showing up on graduation day to collect a diploma. I wonder what sort of jobs they have today.

Sorry, but the real world isn't Lake Wobegone, where all children are above average. For the first time, Massachusetts schools have a standardized way to measure student performance and to test for proficiency in basic skills that every person needs to succeed in life. MCAS is a valuable tool for identifying those areas in which students are weak. Of course, it goes without saying that schools have a big responsibility here. They must be prepared to offer tutoring and whatever else it takes to help failing students succeed.

The goal of MCAS is to bring all students to higher levels of performance. And it's working. According to Mass. Department of Education stats, more students are passing the exam each year, and more are testing at proficient and advanced levels. Hear that, Garrison?

-Karen Auguston Field, kfield@reedbusiness.com

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