Archives for category: Massachusetts

Andy Hargreaves is a professor at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. He received the Grawemeyer Award in 2015. He and two of his graduate students–Mary Bridget Burns and Shanee Wangia–wrote the following response to an editorial in the Boston Globe defending high-stakes testing.

Hargreaves, Burns, and Wangia said:

Want to improve the quality of American high school graduates? Keep testing them! That’s the recommendation of last weekend’s Boston Globe Editorial: The editorial blasted a proposed state bill that would implement a three-year hiatus on testing, be it the state test or the PARCC assessment. Citing concerns that the Massachusetts Teachers Association had too much influence on the legislation, and calling it a “blunt instrument” rather than a “well-drafted public policy prescription,” the editorial recommended voting against the bill. The educational performance of Massachusetts is nationally renowned, it said, and its high-stakes tests had been a big contributor to the state’s success. So why abandon them?
Well, it is a bit of a stretch to say that high-stakes testing contributes to high educational performance in Massachusetts or anywhere else for that matter. Massachusetts is certainly a top performer in the US and receives many visitors from all over the world who come to learn from its success. But other New England states perform just as well or almost as well as Massachusetts, yet their approaches to assessment and testing are strikingly different. Let’s look at how two of these other states compare on the well regarded National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) which is not high-stakes (in that it doesn’t have rewards or punishments attached to it), it is applied only to samples of students rather than all of them, and it cannot be manipulated by teaching to the test.
Among all states on the 2013 NAEP, New Hampshire shares top ranking with Massachusetts in 4th Grade reading and math and is just one or two places behind Massachusetts in 8th grade reading and math with a barely perceptible difference of 5 points or less on a scale reaching the high 200s. The only place where such a tiny difference in number of points counts as part of a very large score is in the final minutes of a basketball game!
Essentially, the two states perform at an almost identical level, including on other state-by-state comparisons such as child well-being where they rank first and second respectively. Yet New Hampshire has had a very different and more flexible assessment strategy to that of Massachusetts – using a suite of assessment tools as part of common standards established across Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
Meanwhile, over the state line from “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire, the Green Mountain state of Vermont is an equally impressive educational performer. It ranks 2nd– 5th place on different aspects of the NAEP, diverging no more than 6 points from the other two states discussed here. It is also another high scorer on child well-being. Yet, Vermont’s approach to testing is much more cautious and skeptical than that of Massachusetts. Indeed, when the Commissioner of New Hampshire and the Secretaries of Education for Massachusetts and Vermont took the stage together at Boston College last December to debate the reasons for their respective “states of success,” Vermont Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe, a staunch opponent of standardized testing, criticized tests for becoming tools with harsh consequences attached, rather than ways to monitor teacher and student progress.

So the Globe Editorial is just plain wrong when it claims that state tests explain high performance in Massachusetts. Neighboring states without this armory of high-stakes assessment have performed equally well. There is high performance with tests and also without them. If we can do well with or without the tests and the consequences that are attached to them, then perhaps we should decide whether we keep them or ditch them on other grounds.
Nearly a million students in Massachusetts take tests like the MCAS or PARCC assessments, at a cost of $29.50-$46 per student. By putting those tests aside, Massachusetts alone could save anywhere from $28-44 million dollars per year. The millions of dollars currently spent on testing could be reallocated instead to supporting teachers more effectively by providing more designated time for them to work together and give feedback on each others’ teaching within the school day, to improve their teaching.
Without the constant concentration on tested subjects, the state could also open up the curriculum beyond the relentless basics of literacy and math to include the artistic, scientific, project-based and out-of-school experiences that are an everyday experience for children of the privileged, but that should be the entitlement of everyone. We could support greater leadership stability in high poverty schools so that these schools can attract great leaders and then keep them. We could stop the revolving door of school leadership in under-performing schools, alleviating the pressure these schools feel to stave off receivership and closure before their work of their leaders has had time to have an impact. Like Canada, Finland, Singapore, and other high performing nations, we could achieve a lot more with far less testing. We can do more. We could do better.
Tests of all kinds can be tools for diagnosis and monitoring in the service of improvement. But they should not be the final say in a student’s academic future or a teacher’s professional career. We can test prudently rather than profligately and get equally strong or even stronger results. That’s not only what high performing countries have learned. It’s also what some of Massachusetts’ immediate neighbors have been doing for years.
Andy Hargreaves, Mary Bridget Burns and Shanee Wangia

Lynch School of Education

Boston College
National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP): Interstate Comparison of 2013 Scores

NAEP Vermont (VT) Massachusetts (MA) New Hampshire (NH) Nation (Public)
4th Grade Reading 228 (5th place) 232 (1st place) 232 (1st place) 221
4th Grade Math 248 (4th place) 253 (1st place) 253 (1st place) 241
8th Grade Reading 274 (3rd place) 277 (1st place) 274 (3rd place) 266
8th Grade Math 295 (2nd place) 301 (1st place) 296 (2nd place) 284

At its annual meeting, the Massachusetts Teachers Association endorsed the right of parents to opt their child out of state testing.

“Delegates to the 2015 MTA Annual Meeting have voted to support the right of parents to opt their children out of high-stakes standardized testing.

“The Annual Meeting, which drew more than 1,100 delegates from all over Massachusetts to the Hynes Convention Center in Boston on May 8 and May 9, also featured wide-ranging discussion of education issues, including the state takeover of the Holyoke Public Schools. The delegates heard speeches by award recipients and a keynote address by Seattle educator and social activist Jesse Hagopian.

“On Friday, the delegates passed a new business item that requires MTA President Barbara Madeloni and Vice President Janet Anderson to send a letter to Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester and state legislators stating the following MTA positions:

“That parents in Massachusetts deserve the choice to opt their public school students out of high-stakes standardized assessments.

“That districts should be required to provide all parents with yearly written information explaining their right to opt students out of assessments.

“That students who opt out should not be included in data used by state or federal entities in “grading” schools.
That no parent or student should be penalized because of a parental decision to opt out.

“That no educator should be disciplined for discussing with students, parents or community members the options for opting students out of high-stakes tests.

“Madeloni said the opt-out vote by the delegates representing more than 110,000 educators in Massachusetts — including preK-12 educators, educators in the public higher education system and retired educators — is indicative of the growing consensus around the country that standardized high-stakes testing is out of control.

“Supporting the right to opt out is one of the strongest statements we can make as educators against standardized testing,” Madeloni said.

“We need to support the parents and students who decide to do this. The MTA will vigorously defend any educator who is disciplined for supporting the right of parents and students to opt out. The more people step up and speak out, the clearer will be the message to our legislators that the people of Massachusetts want to put a stop to the madness of standardized testing,” she said.

“Standardized testing is distorting the goals of public education and choking the creativity and joy that should be at the center of teaching and learning,” Madeloni added.”

Christine Langhoff sent the following reflections on the state takeover of the schools of Holyoke, Massachusetts. Jitu Brown’s remarks in the opening keynote at NPE Chicago identified the current reform movement as “colonialism.” When she heard Jitu speak, Christine was reminded of the state takeover of the public schools of Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1989.


Christine wrote:


Under the arrogant John Silber, Boston University took over the Chelsea Public schools for 20 years. The teachers’ contract was abrogated and many outside “experts” and researchers poured into the schools, many making careers due to their involvement. Money was also poured into the schools. But not much has changed and BU folded its tent and went away and the money dried up. From a study in 2010 by The Urban Initiative at UMass Dartmouth:


“The less positive news is that the challenges that the School District and City of Chelsea faced back in the 1980’s are still present, and in some instances have been exacerbated by state and regional economic conditions, as well as world-wide unrest and economic hardship for many families moving into the area. The challenges include: poverty, unreported immigrants, unemployment, crime, gangs, drugs, teen pregnancy, family mobility, low attendance rates, and the continuing issue of English as a second language.


The School District of Chelsea can never be accused of not continually looking for a solution to the challenges it faces. The reform efforts have been multiple and continual over the past two decades. Unfortunately they were not always systemic in nature and were driven by a ‘cure de jour’ and perhaps a myopic vision of the individual factors that needed to be addressed, rather than a broad-based plan that built upon succeeding successes and included the resources needed to fully implement the interventions.”


What has worked in Chelsea was not the expertise of the colonizers, but rather the daily hard work of community organizations to provide wrap around services children and families in empoverished cities to mediate the impact of poverty:


“Perhaps most importantly, there is a growing awareness that the school district doesn’t own the problem; that it is a community problem, and it will take the entire community’s resources and willpower to address the needs of its youth in a proactive and effective way. The growing community collaborations with outside agencies and non-profit organizations have already begun to show promise as a major reform strategy.”


In another comment, Christine added:


I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that one of the first things the state does is eliminating the dual language program from Holyoke’s schools. 79% of kids in the schools are Latino (the majority of them Puerto Ricans, thus American citizens) and 48% are identified as having English as a second language. But those running the department of ed see bilingualism as a deficit. The Dever elementary school in Boston was taken over by the state earlier this school year. The very first thing the charter operator did was eliminate the successful dual language program.


The fact of a large Puerto Rican population in Holyoke matters. (At the Dever, too, many of the families are Puerto Rican.) As citizens, many Puerto Ricans transit between the island and the mainland due to family and employment factors (again, poverty – when there’s no work, you go back to live with abuelita). Children who move between school systems must be fluent in both languages to flourish academically, as public schools in Puerto Rico are conducted in Spanish. Being bilingual is a necessity and the argument of “if they want to live here, they need to learn English” holds no water when compared with the obligation of the state to provide a free, appropriate education to its citizens.

Reformers have a problem with democracy: They don’t like it. They like state takeovers, mayoral control, anything that eliminates local control. This is right out of the ALEC play book. Why so reformers hate democracy? They don’t believe that regular, non-rich people are smart enough to control their schools. Think Newark, Camden, and other Néw Jersey cities that lost democracy 20 years ago, with nothing to show for it.

So we turn to Holyoke, Massachusetts, which is a low-income city with a large Latino population. EduShyster tells the sad story here.

Well that certainly didn’t take long. The official state takeover time piece barely registered two hours and the Holyoke Public Schools had officially entered a new state: taken over. If you are keeping count at home, that’s about half as long as the public hearing that preceded the vote, during which some 1,000 + Holyokesters, including some who stood for four hours, packed a hall to register their objections to the state’s takeover plans. In other words, nothing to see or hear here folks, especially, it seems, if you were one of the ten members of the state’s 12 member Board of Education who didn’t actually visit a single Holyoke school prior to casting your vote…

One Holyoke
First, can we just acknowledge the extraordinary display on state takeover eve, when residents of a city so divided that whites live up in the Heights while Latinos live in the Flats, came together to oppose the state’s plans? But where you and I saw a standing-room-only crowd and overwhelming opposition, members of the state Board of Education seemed to see something different. Board chair Paul Sagan saw a *data point,* as well as the many theoretical community members who silently supported the state’s takeover but declined to join the two actual community members who spoke in favor of the state takeover at the hearing…..

“Students matter
For once I managed to type those words with straight fingers. How about a shoutout to the students who walked out of Holyoke High School to protest the state takeover? Or this valedictorian, who manages in three and a half minutes to explain the utter nonsensicality of the state’s policy on teaching the students-still-learning English who make up 30% of the student body in Holyoke. And most especially, this student: Donald Willyard, the Board’s sole student member, who took it upon himself to take the unusual step of taking a trip to see Holyoke’s schools prior to voting on whether to take them over. Which he voted against.”

No democracy for Holyoke. Sad. Another victory for reform, but not the children of Holyoke.

With the endorsement of State Superintendent Mitchell Chester,  the Massachusetts State Board of Education voted 8-3 to take control of the public schools in Holyoke.


Chester called it an “opportunity” for the district. Most Holyoke residents who attended the hearing opposed the state takeover.


Odd that in the birthplace of American democracy, local control of education has been removed. There are not many examples of state takeovers that have improved education. Let’s see what Commissioner Chester can do.

EduShyster takes a hilarious look at the complicated landscape of Common Core testing in Massachusetts. The state is soon to make a decision about whether to stick with its MCAS exams or switch to the Common Core PARCC exams.


Is it a conflict of interest when the State Commissioner Mitchell Chester also happens to be chair of the governing board of PARCC?


She writes (with marvelous illustrations):


You see, Commissioner Chester wears more than one hat, as they say. Sporting his fedora of excellence, he has just presided over the start of an ambitious two-year effort to test drive the PARCC tests in more than 1,000 Massachusetts schools so that the state Board of Education, which Chester also advises, can vote in 2015 on whether to replace the old, outdated and outmoded MCAS tests with the cool new computerized PARCC edition. Still with me? But in his second hat—let’s call it his readiness beret—Chester serves as chairman of the governing board for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers otherwise known as PARCC: the *multi-state consortium* tasked both with developing the new tests and relentlessly flogging them until all *multi-states* adopt them. Did I say two hats? Make that three. Chester is also a director as well as the president of PARCC, Inc., a nonprofit that’s been created to make the development and implementation of the new PARCC assessments *more effective and efficient.* (See exhibit A). Got it? Good. Because it’s test time.
Now, exercising the career-and-college-readiness skills of observation, deduction, and proper use and evaluation of evidence would you say that Commissioner Chester’s dueling headgear as described above constitutes a. a conflict of interest b. a breach of trust c. just good common cents or d. time for more scotch? If you are a member of the Peabody School Committee [note to out-of-towners, correct pronunciation is Pea-buh-dee], the answer to this high-stakes question couldn’t be clearer. *It’s an outrageous conflict of interest and a breach of public trust,* says School Committee member Dave McGeney. The Committee recently voted unanimously to ask state officials to investigate the matter. McGeney says that Chester needs to pick a hat, any hat, but he can’t wear them all. *How can he be chairman of PARCC and also entering into agreements with PARCC on behalf of Massachusetts? It defies logic,* says McGeney.


Except that we’re in PARCC Place, where the old fusty logic about things like breaches of public trust and conflicts of the interest variety no longer apply. Someone has to get these kids college and career ready and apparently it’s not going to be you (hater.) Besides, Commissioner Chester took it upon himself to seek advice from the State Ethics Commission about a possible conflict of interest. In 2013. Three years after Chester signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to join PARCC and became chair of its governing board. And just to be extra, extra sure, Chester also checked his hats with Secretary of Education Matt Malone and the Chairwoman of the Board of Education, Maura Banta, who was also signatory to the MOU and who will eventually vote on whether the state should adopt the new PARCC assessments.
Meanwhile, some 80,000 Massachusetts students in grades 3-11 recently wrapped up the first round of PARCC piloting; they’ll resume test driving in May. Which brings us to the only question that really matters: how great are the PARCC assessments at measuring readiness, college and career style? Really great, reader. You see, drop the pesky *A,* which stands for Achieve, and the *CC*, which stands for Common Core, and you’re left with *PR,* as displayed in this handy informational assemblage of quotes, purporting to be from educators, parents and students, like Massachusetts Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester, *responding positively to their early experiences with the assessments.*



What do you think Commissioner Chester will decide?



Andrea Gabor asks the million-dollar question: Why did Massachusetts, the most successful state in the nation on the National Assessment of Progress, drop its own finely honed standards and replace them with the untested Common Core standards? On one level, the answer is obvious: It wanted the money that come from Race to the Top. But at another level, this decision is not only puzzling but downright distressing. With the outstanding record of the students and teachers of Massachusetts, why in the world would policymakers take a chance on changing its successful system of standards and assessments? Of course, the $250 million that the state won is impressive, but no doubt the mandates that accompanied Race to the Top money very likely cost more than $250 million. From afar, it looks irresponsible. Even stranger is that the business community continues to complain about student performance when the performance of the public schools in Massachusetts is not only first in the nation but near the top of world rankings. What gives?


Is this just disruption for the sake of disruption?


Gabor writes:


Now the Massachusetts reforms are once again under assault by Common-Core enthusiasts. Strangely, many of those attacking the reforms are its erstwhile defenders. In February, the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, a leading advocacy group for the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act, issued the first of several reports that found, or are expected to find, the Bay State standards and an accompanying high-stakes test, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System or MCAS, wanting when compared to the still-untested “Common-Core aligned” PARCC tests (PARCC stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.)


“The current MCAS high school tests do not identify students who are college- and career-ready, and they do not contain the right content to measure college- and career-readiness,” concludes the MBAE study.


By contrast, the MBAE cautiously endorses the PARCC test: “As we are preparing this report in early 2015, the PARCC tests hold the promise of being a good indicator of college- and career-readiness.” (Emphasis added.)


In response, researchers from the Pioneer Institute, a market-oriented Massachusetts think thank, argue that money, once again, is playing an outsized role in the latest anti-MCAS research. The turncoats, according to Pioneer, include MBAE, which was cofounded by the aforementioned Paul Reville, as well as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Achieve Inc., both national Common-Core advocates. What these organizations all have in common is that they have receive funding– lots of it—from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which also invested over $200 million in developing the Common Core.


The most recent Massachusetts skirmish over the Common Core is no coincidence. This year, Massachusetts elementary and middle schools had the choice of taking the PARCC test or the MCAS. In the fall, Massachusetts will make a final decision about whether to ditch the MCAS entirely in favor of PARCC, at a time when half the states that initially agreed to adopt the Common-Core aligned test have since backed out.


In their OpEd, Charles Chieppo and Jamie Gass, detail the tangled web of relationships that tie the critics of the Massachusetts reforms to the Gates foundation, the PARCC tests and the Common Core. The OpEd is particularly scathing about the role of the MBAE:


“The Mass. Business Alliance study’s credibility was further compromised by the fact that its author is an adviser to PARCC. An earlier report from the Alliance — written by the senior education adviser to the giant testing company Pearson, which is near the top of a long list of entities that stand to gain from the switch to Common Core — was so bereft of intellectual integrity that it lifted an entire purported “case study” from The Boston Globe without attribution.”


However, the winner of the “conflict-of-interest derby,” according to Chieppo and Gass, is Teach Plus, a Boston-based national education-reform organization, which published a pro-PARCC report, “Massachusetts Teachers Examine PARCC“, in March:


The group recently released a study in which 23 of its fellows conclude that the commonwealth should ditch MCAS for PARCC. Teach Plus has received over $17 million from the Gates Foundation, including stipends for each of those 23 fellows.


The question now is whether Massachusetts will stick with its own test, MCAS, or whether it will switch to PARCC.


After each administration of MCAS, the questions and answers are released for public review. This is not the case with PARCC.


PARCC, by contrast, is a locked box, entirely controlled by Pearson, the testing giant that is developing the PARCC tests. It isn’t designed to be improved by educators over time, nor to help educators use the test to improve what or how they teach.


For now, at least in Massachusetts, the war over the Common Core will continue for at least a few months. Fordham Institute is expected to produce a study this summer examining the MCAS’s alignment to the Common Core; if its earlier support for the PARCC test is any indication, it too is likely to find against MCAS.


In Massachusetts, a final decision will be made by Mitchell Chester, the current education commissioner. Chester, it must be noted, also chairs PARCC’s governing board.


There you have it, folks. Conflicts of interest abound. Lots of money riding on the decision. And the person who will make the final decision as to which test will be used just happens to be the chair of the PARCC governing board. What do you think will happen?



Sixteen elementary school teachers in Framingham, Massachusetts, wrote an eloquent letter to parents explaining the damage that is done by high-stakes PARCC testing.


They write:


As teachers we cannot stay silent as PARCC makes its way into our classrooms.


In the words of Soujourner Truth at the 1851 Women’s Convention, “Where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter.” Nationally, we’re hearing a racket about the problem of standardized tests driving instruction, knocking the process of education clearly out of kilter. Here are a few reasons why:


First, test prep takes time away from real instruction in reading, math, and writing. “On average we will cancel six weeks of reading and writing instruction to prepare for the tests.”


Second, test prep extinguishes students’ love of learning:


Third, standardized tests harm students who are English language learners, students with disabilities, and students with anxiety.


Fourth, PARCC will feed into the reform mantra that our schools and teachers are “failing.”


EduShyster has written a scintillating post about how three of Boston’s most prestigious law firms (“white shoe” lawyers) have combine to litigate for more charter schools in the name of civil rights. She asks some pertinent questions: Do they know that charters are more segregated than public schools? Do they know that children in charter schools abandon their civil rights at the door? Do they know that many charter schools do not “backfill” (i.e., accept students who apply to enroll in grades after their entering class)? Do they know that the odds of young males graduating from a charter school in Massachusetts are small?


She writes:


What? You want to know how it is that civil rights can be used to argue for more charter schools, when, according to a growing body of case law, students in charter schools don’t actually have civil rights? Or how, in the course of four decades, *civil rights* could go from a fierce battle over desegregating schools and diversifying the teaching force to the right of students to attend more segregated schools and be taught by young, mostly white teachers? Or why our pro bono-ists seem so charmingly ill-informed, not just about the state’s charter schools, but about all of the schools that are publicly attended? All mere trifles, reader.
While the constitutional challenge to the charter cap has yet to make its official debut, it gets underway unofficially this week with the hottest ticket in town: the annual charter school lottery. Our pro bono-ists will identify a handful of lottery losers, invite them to become plaintiffs, then introduce them to the press, Vergara-style. Of course, the bold plan is not without its challenges. Like getting past that *awkward* bit about the plaintiffs being denied access to *high-performing seats* that have no students in them because of the charter lobby’s staunch position against *backfilling.* Also, probably best to avoid including a would-be 9th grade boy in the plaintiff pool, as he turns out to have about as much chance of graduating from a Boston charter high school, going to college and completing college as he does of winning the actual lottery. But I digress. (The links are in the post.)



She also helpfully explains why certain law firms are called “white shoe” and includes a very realistic illustration of a white shoe, the kind seen in olden times on Ivy League campuses.



The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education commissioned a study comparing MCAS, the 20-year-old state assessment system, and PARCC, the federally funded Common Core test. It concluded that PARCC is superior to MCAS in preparing students to be workforce and college ready.

This is a surprising conclusion, since MCAS has been in use for two decades and PARCC is not only untried but very controversial. When Arne Duncan handed out $360 million to create two consortia to develop tests for the Common Core, PARCC enlisted 24 states and DC. Now, only 10 states and DC are sticking with PARCC.

Even more surprising are the reports about a lack of well-prepared workers. Massachusetts is by far the most successful state in the nation, as judged by NAEP test scores. Maybe test scores don’t translate into the skills, behaviors, and habits that employers seek. But how do these business people know that PARCC will be better?


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