Spreading the Massachusetts ‘education miracle’

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2016/05/06/spreading-the-massachusetts-education-miracle/

Last week, the NewBostonPost reported that the Michigan state Senate is considering dropping the national Common Core standards and replacing them and other standards with the education standards used here in Massachusetts up until 2010.

And with good reason.

The Massachusetts standards, ushered in by the Education Reform Act of 1993, stressed high standards and substantive content and helped to make Massachusetts public schools among the best in the nation. Unlike Common Core’s standards (which stress skills, as opposed to knowledge), the Massachusetts state standards were designed to raise the bar for all students, accelerate the academic achievement of low-achieving groups in the state, and prepare the state’s grade 10 students for a meaningful high school diploma (not for freshman college courses that may be below college-level.)

In order to measure student mastery of the standards, Massachusetts developed a high quality test, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). We know that the 10th grade MCAS tests (which all high school seniors were required to pass in order to graduate from high school) were related to authentic college readiness from a report relating our high school students’ performance on their grade 10 MCAS tests to the type of public college they enrolled in after graduation in 2005 and to the extent of remedial coursework they needed.

Almost none of the students at the Advanced level and about 20 percent of the students at the Proficient level who had enrolled in four-year public colleges and universities in the Bay State in 2005 needed remediation in mathematics or reading. They were college-ready as well as high-school diploma-ready, whether or not they took a mathematics course in their senior year of high school (which the report doesn’t tell us). That is exactly the way the system should work.

On the other hand, about half of the 2005 high school graduating students who had enrolled in a Massachusetts community college in 2005 and had earlier been placed at the Needs Improvement level on a grade 10 MCAS test needed remediation in mathematics, reading, or both. (Again, we don’t know if they had taken a mathematics course in their senior year of high school or tried in other ways to improve their academic records in their junior and senior years of high school.)

Although the Massachusetts standards indeed prepared students for college-level work, and although performance on pre-2008 grade 10 MCAS tests could predict authentic college readiness, in July 2010 the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to replace its homegrown standards and assessments with Gates Foundation-funded Common Core standards and tests developed by an Obama Administration-funded testing company.

As anyone can see, the English language arts and mathematics standards dumped by the Governor Patrick-appointed Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2010 are nothing like Common Core’s standards, in philosophy, mathematical scope, and the literary orientation of the ELA standards.

More disturbing, the Board agreed via its application for Race to the Top funds that students enrolling in a state college after grade 11 should not be required to take non-credit-bearing freshman college courses, even if remediation was needed, so long as they passed a grade 11 test deeming them “college ready.” For reasons best known only to its members, the Board of Higher Education also agreed not to require new freshman students to take the placement test in mathematics. In 2013 the MBHE voted to accept the recommendation of a 17-member Task Force on Transforming Developmental Math Education, only five of whose members were employed as mathematics faculty, that high school graduates with an overall high school Grade Point Average (GPA) of 2.7 or higher be exempt from the initial placement exam and placed directly into the lowest college-level math course appropriate for their chosen pathway of study.

Of course, a student’s actual “college-readiness” depends on the academic quality and rigor of their curriculum and the quality and rigor of the “college readiness” test used, Yet, we know from many mathematicians (e.g., R. James Milgram of Stanford, Marina Ratner of Berkeley, Jason Zimba formerly at Bennington) that Common Core’s mathematics standards do not prepare students for STEM careers—the jobs of the 21st century. And it is obvious to anyone who compares the reading passages used over the years on the grade 10 MCAS in English language arts with the sample reading passages for grade 11 Common Core-based reading tests that the overall reading level of the passages on the Common Core-based tests is not higher than the overall reading level of the passages on the grade 10 MCAS test. In other words, Common Core-based tests can’t tell us whether students who would have been judged as “needing improvement” under the original grade 10 MCAS tests are actually ready for college.

So who are the chief victims of this gross public deception? Minority students, especially African-Americans. They are the students for whom “college and career readiness” standards and tests were originally created. The 2005 Massachusetts report recorded that black students had lower “persistence” rates than most other demographic groups, lower GPAs than Asian/Pacific Islanders (2.5 to 2.8), and a lower number of credits on average during their first year of college than Asian/Pacific Islanders (22.7 to 27.1). Yet, the report also noted that more than 80 percent of all students in the 2005 school-to-college cohort remained enrolled for a second year of college in 2006, although how many of them were minority students is not indicated.

Massachusetts parents, legislators, and teachers have been regularly told for five years that Common Core’s standards are better than those they replaced. The facts clearly tell otherwise. Why not spread the high quality pre-Common Core Massachusetts standards to all states (i.e., to more than Michigan)? Why do state legislators, their state commissioners of education, and their state boards of education want to believe what they have been told by organizations funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, when these organizations (and the high-tech companies selling school districts the infrastructure for Common Core-based tests) seem to be the only ones benefiting from the adoption of Common Core’s standards or rebranded but slightly altered copies by over 40 states?

Sandra Stotsky

Sandra Stotsky

Sandra Stotsky, former Senior Associate Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Education, is Professor of Education emerita at the University of Arkansas. Read her past columns here.