Driscoll recommended closing Uphams Corner based on the school's record during the past five years. Though a state inspection team found improvements over the past year in student behavior and classroom instruction, MCAS scores remain low. For the first four years, many classes lacked rigor, and teachers didn't teach a curriculum that was aligned with the state's academic standards.
Because teachers didn't teach to the test, somehow they didn't meet this state's "academic standars." I have a new proposal for the State's Board of Education. Why don't we just hire out Kaplan to teach all our students to pass the MCAS. It'll probably be close to a 100% graduation rate. Sure, we'll be pushing forward dumb shits and be far worse for it, but they'll pass the MCAS! Yay!
The MCAS, at this moment, is a measure of one thing for 80-90% of students: socio-economic levels. People from stable, upper-middle class backgrounds will tend to do well on the exam. Students from poor, broken families probably won't. Is the MCAS a measure of their intelligence? No, it's a measure of their stability. It's a measure of how strongly their parents distilled a need in their children for academic achievement - or even merely intellectual curiousity. It's a measure of how much crap's going on at home.
The thing about schools in Massachusetts is that you could take all the best teachers from Lynnfield, MASCO, Swampscott, Marblehead... and stick them in Lynn English and the kids from English won't do much better. Why? It isn't that the teachers in Lynnfield and Swampscott are so out-of-this-world fantastic, or that the teachers from Lynn are craptastic, it's that the people learning in Lynn either don't have the same familial expectations or are going through very difficult domestic situations and aren't getting the same kind of support. If people have a single parent, in and out of work and addicted to drugs - the achievement isn't passing the MCAS, the achievement is going to school 5 days a week.
All that said, I'm not against a test people must pass to graduate. However, the test needs to be completely different. The current exam doesn't really ask people to show what they learned; it's a test geared toward people who have learned how to 'beat' it - just like the SAT or any other mainly multiple-choice standardized test. Exams should make people show what they learned - be it either a portfolio project to be presented at the end of the year to a school's administration or an open-ended MCAS that doesn't have random question #2234o8343 on it, but a test that asks basic questions and looks for coherent answers using knowledge people have learned from their class.
At the very least, if the state wants to have the MCAS as it's currently formatted, it needs to invest the kind of money in the kind of places that will give everyone the support they need to pass. The kind of help necessary extends far beyond dollars invested in the educational system and includes things like health insurance, day care (for parents that would otherwise make their own children watch their kids), drug rehabilitation, etc. The problems that the MCAS reveals aren't usually indicative of what's going on at school and much more likely to be what's going on at home. Until those problems are addressed, we can throw tens of billions of dollars more into k-12 and it won't make a difference.