Monday, April 20, 2020

MA: Governor Offers Terrible Reason To Re-open Schools

Well, of all the stupid reasons to re-open schools before summer comes, this offering from Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has to be among the worst:

One reason Baker said he wants to see schools reopen before the end of the school year would be so students could take tests to determine how far behind they fell due to the pandemic.

Baker has been an ed reformster since he was elected in 2014, complete with ties to the charter industry and threw his own weight behind the ill-fated, dark-money-financed initiative to raise the charter cap.

So it's not exactly a shock to find him advocating for this idea, which is, I should repeat, really dumb.

This guy has a really bad idea.
The governor says he wants teachers and students to know where they stand in May so that--well, study hard over the summer, or prep form the fall, or something. It's a dumb idea.

First, you drag in a bunch of students who haven't been inside school for a weeks and weeks, try to get them re-acclimated, and then plop them down in front of a standardized test that has few-or-no stakes for them.

The test only covers a couple of subjects, and they haven't prepped for it. And when I talk about test prep, I don't mean pre-coaching the answers. That's only one kind of test prep, and a pretty rare kind at that. Test prep is about teaching students the testing language, format and techniques. For instance, it is only in the world of the Big Standardized Test that "reading" means "read a short excerpt from some bland source, then answer some multiple choice questions about it." So teachers bombard their students with practice versions of this. The whole goal of test prep is so that when the peculiar formats and questions of the BS Test land in front of the student, the student responds with "Oh, this again," instead of "what the hell is going on here." The younger the student, the more time needed to prep them for this Kafkaesque game.

Bottom line: Baker can try to drag all the students into school in May to take the BS Test, and maybe most of them will come, but the test results will tell teachers and students absolutely nothing useful.

As for using these results over the summer-- the MCAS results are usually released in the fall. Maybe he has a plan to expedite that-- I mean, he is quoted as saying "so that there’s some idea about things people could work on over the course of the summer so they’re not completely behind when they show up in the fall." I can't even imagine what that looks like-- "Mom, Dad-- my reading score was low, so can I have some MCAS prep books for summer vacation"?

Also, the MCAS has been officially canceled about a week ago (Baker signed the bill and everything). So maybe Baker wants to administer some other test? Or tests? That the systems are going to get from... somewhere? Tests R Us? Or the MCAS people who had previously stood down and gone home would be suddenly be called back to active duty:?

Did I mention that this is a dumb idea?

There are only two potential benefits to opening schools in order to administer the MCAS-- the folks who want to see public schools get failing grades so that charters look more appealing would get that bump, and Measured Progress, the company contracted to operate MCAS (oh, and their subcontractor Pearson North America). No, wait-- Measured Progress is now part of Cognia, which is the new name for the Measured Progress and AdvancED combo, and they offer stuff like "Unmatched expertise to help you achieve visionary goals." They seem fun. Maybe Massachusetts should drag all those students into school to help Cognia keep making money.

Does any of this seem worth sending students back to school in a month under current conditions. Does anyone imagine Massachusetts parents saying, "Well, I'm afraid of the coronavirus, but it is for your Big Standardized Test, so I'm sending you to school."

Anyway, it's not clear exactly what Baker has in mind, but there's no version of this that is not a dumb idea.

Non-dumb idea? When you get back in the fall, let the teachers do what they do every fall-- use their own mixture of formal and informal assessments to figure out what their students know, and then go from there. "Trust your teachers to do their jobs" is a much less dumb idea.


  1. During this work-at-home pandemic, I've already given Jeff Bezos too much of my money to watch old movies via Amazon Prime Video. Now you've put me in mind of another old film: They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Saddle them broncs and ride them to the glue factory!!

  2. I agree 100%. No experienced teacher needs a state test to assess their students' ability. Sending us back to get sick is even dumber!

  3. Good teachers read kids progress MUCH BETTER than a one day a year, one size fits all test! ID10T failure!