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Editorial: Time to re-evaluate the MCAS

Anyone with public school children of a certain age has just endured a week of vicarious test taking, thanks to the MCAS.

Those students taking the test, their supportive parents, and much of the rest of Massachusetts understand what the test is supposed to show: where students are in meeting general educational standards established by the state. For 10th-graders, it’s a series of exams on language arts, math and science that are crucial to earning a high school diploma.

And it’s all part of the effort laid out under the Education Reform Law of 1993.

For roughly 20 years, then, the public school students and teachers in Massachusetts have been diligently trying to prepare for these high-stakes tests.

B ased upon the results, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has not only determined how well students are performing, but has also provided reports on individual schools and districts as well as evaluating teachers.

High stakes, indeed.

But is the MCAS system accomplishing its goals? Who is evaluating, and publicizing, the test’s effect on the state’s educational system?

This may be a particularly good time to ask that question given that the state is moving toward yet another federally published set of goals: the Common Core State Standards. Just last year, the state decided that 2015 would be the year it would begin using standardized tests aligned with the Common Core (developed as part of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and therefore “sunset” their own standard, the MCAS exams.

What’s planned, we’re told, is “a robust comparison of the MCAS and PARCC student assessment programs.”

But what we haven’t heard is how the MCAS has done — what kind of impact this has had in the classroom as well as on the other facets of a student’s education. We’ve all heard horror stories about how our public schools have had to “teach to the test,” losing time to MCAS preparations.

Parents, too, know full well the pressure students feel in trying to do their best with the MCAS.

H ave schools and teachers, in reality, been judged on “improvement” rather than real accomplishment?

It just makes common sense, then, in this time of restructuring, that there should be evaluation of whether the MCAS — or any other standardized test — still fits within the framework of public education in Massachusetts.

The MCAS itself should be able to handle such a test.

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