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NCLB Outrages

Hub Teachers Flee MCAS: Tests Drive Talent to 'Burbs and Out of State

Talented and energetic new teachers - worried that MCAS pressures are consuming classroom time and stifling creativity - are opting for suburban and out-of-state districts rather than urban Hub classrooms, local university officials say.

``One of my students told me, `I feel like I'm learning to be an educator, but they are going to use me like a Kaplan coach,' '' said Northeastern University professor Robert L. Fried.

Appearing before legislators considering MCAS reforms, Fried testified about the MCAS' chilling effect on new teachers' desire to enter the urban schools where they are most needed.

Some grads sour on Bay State schools altogether, he said. ``They say they want to teach in a state that has standardized tests, but they are not high-stakes tests like the MCAS.''

Department of Education officials said standardized testing is part of any curriculum under federal No Child Left Behind standards. And MCAS is an assessment tool, they said, not a shackle.

``MCAS is not meant to be something that is taught every day,'' said DOE spokeswoman Heidi Perlman. ``Unfortunately, it seems these people are operating under a misunderstanding.''

But university officials say they have anecdotal evidence of brain drain - that many of their brightest teachers only last a year or two in city schools, or opt to go straight to higher-performing suburban districts.

``I think Massachusetts has moved a little bit too far to the side of public accountability, so teachers don't have as much professional judgment,'' said Jill Harrison Berg, a former Cambridge teacher now with Harvard's Project on the Next Generation of Teachers.

Among the project's findings: More than two-thirds of 50 new teachers said the state assessment affected their instruction, even when students in their grades were not tested. The result is a growing number of teachers that leave the profession before five years.

One young teacher in the Boston schools said she's determined to stick it out. But Melanie Livingston said the intensive focus on testing is like trying to ``fatten a pig by weighing it.''

Livingston, 27, said she thought when she started in Boston that ``MCAS is merely a test on one day.'' Three years later, she said, ``I realize that was ridiculous.''

Teaching and administering local, state and federal tests eats up the day. ``We had `MCAS Monday' one day a week for half the year. The kids knew it - every Monday was for MCAS. We had a rallying cry: Beat MCAS!''

It's cut into her creativity and the standard curriculum, she said. However, ``So far I haven't had a kid fail the MCAS.''

— Kimberly Atkins
Boston Herald


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