A Standardisto Defense of the MCAS
Don't give up on the editorial. You wouldn't want to miss the standardisto Globe announcing that the MCAS is an honest test. As noted researcher Anne Wheelock points out,
Among a number of dubious statements about MCAS contained in the Globe
editorial on 12/28/03 is the following, suggesting that there's no obvious
motivation for MCAS irregularies in Worcester:
In some school districts, principals earn bonuses when their schools show dramatic progress. But Worcester does not offer such incentives.
Worcester may not have a bonus program, but the editorial ignores that there are three statewide incentive programs (one sponsored by the MA Dept. of Ed, one sponsored by businessman William Edgerly, and one sponsored by MassInsight, Inc.), each of which awards $10,000 to a school that makes MCAS gains. The editorial also does not acknowledge that many of these award-winning schools may have gamed the system - and obtained similar score gains - by holding more students back in their grade or failing to hold on to dropouts. See:
HUNDREDS OF SCHOOLS across the state are struggling with ways to raise student scores on the high stakes Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System examination. But only one -- the Chandler Elementary Community School in Worcester -- appears to have resorted to widespread cheating.The state Department of Education is investigating the actions of the school's principal, Irene Adamaitis, who is suspected by officials of providing teachers with copies of an MCAS exam days before it was to be given. State rules require that the test be kept under lock and key until test day. Also under investigation is a veteran special education teacher, Gail Dufour, who is suspected of helping students to erase and change incorrect answers during the exam.
State and Worcester officials, who became suspicious of unrealistically high jumps in performance over previous years, are trying to determine if the practice extended into other Chandler classrooms.
School-sanctioned cheating and test tampering is under investigation from Georgia to the state of Washington. The reputations of schools and educators are ruined. But the real losers are the students whose altered test scores don't reflect their true abilities. Like most statewide tests, MCAS is a diagnostic tool that identifies student strengths and weaknesses. Responsible school districts, including Worcester, conduct careful item analyses of every exam to pinpoint student needs. Educators who feed answers to students or inflate grades, therefore, are not merely dishonest. They are committing educational malpractice by masking symptoms. Massachusetts should consider available scanning technology that flags excessive erasures that might signal cheating. The stripping of certification from cheating educators would also send a needed message.
The motives for cheating vary around the country. In some school districts, principals earn bonuses when their schools show dramatic progress. But Worcester does not offer such incentives. In other cases, educators are anxious to avoid the "underperforming" label that can lead to loss of local control.
In Massachusetts, however, that process is slow and methodical. State officials are focused on providing technical help to troubled schools, not on takeovers. The federal No Child Left Behind Act is blunter. It would transfer students out of low performing schools. But even at the federal level, officials are starting to realize the need for more flexibility in rating systems.
It is possible that some educators at the Chandler School thought they were doing a service to their mostly low-income students. It's worth reminding them and others that the MCAS exam is an honest tool adopted to overcome the low standards and expectations that resulted from just such pernicious thinking.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.
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