Now More Than Ever
November 29, 2001
The recent publicity generated by the lowered MCAS failure
rate might make you think the anti-high-stakes-testing crowd is eating
crow. Nothing could be further from the truth. Education experts unbeholden
to the corporate forces who hijacked our schools know that increased scores
don't mean improved learning. That the state can threaten kids with lifelong
punishment if they don't absorb MCAS-mandated trivia is hardly cause for
Tests like MCAS are designed to separate children into those who will
help manage a corporate-dominated high-tech economy and their more numerous
peers who'll be taught only enough to follow orders as they clean our
buildings and serve our food. The seeming objectivity of test scores masks
the intended goal: a stratified society in which every child accepts his
or her test-defined place. That place will always be determined more by
parental socioeconomic status than by whatever it our children learn in
Anyone who thinks that public education's purpose should be to expand
children's horizons, teach them to think critically about their roles
as citizens and human beings, and prepare them for whatever course in
life they choose for themselves should be appalled by MCAS. If we really
want all children to have an equal opportunity for a decent life, we won't
rest until the resources available in Brookline are extended to schools
just two miles away in Roxbury. Will MCAS equalize the gap between our
own schools and overcrowded, underfunded schools lacking sufficient textbooks
and adequate labs? Of course not.
At least in Brookline our School Committee and Superintendent have taken
stands against MCAS. They sound pretty good. But they could do more.
For over a year the School Committee ignored evidence presented by parents,
teachers, and students that MCAS pressures were eroding Brookline's education.
Some creative activities were eliminated to make room for test preparation.
Some school plays and field trips were canceled. Simplistic worksheets
became more common. The School Committee, focused on lobbying the legislature,
seemed determined not to see what was going on right here at home where
they had the power to intervene.
Fortunately, the Committee has finally succumbed to appeals by anti-MCAS
leaders in BrooklineCARE. A survey is in the works that asks teachers
how MCAS affects their teaching. If the teachers repeat on paper the stories
they tell privately, there will be abundant evidence that all is not well.
The next step will be to eliminate teaching to the test wherever it exists.
Still, while saving education in Brookline is important, it's not enough.
Our goal should be to improve education throughout the state, focusing
resources where they're needed most. One way to do that is to strengthen
the statewide activist movement. Many in CARE place their hopes on the
legislature or the next gubernatorial race. Yet now is the time to move
to direct action by joining the student, parent, and teacher boycott.
The state education bureaucracy can easily fend off traditional reform
efforts. What they can't ignore is the refusal to take or give the test.
In high school, boycotting students face the prospect of no diploma if
MCAS isn't stopped. But there's no such threat for younger children, for
whom yearly MCAS testing begins in third grade. Individually or collectively,
Brookline parents can simply inform their principal that their children
are not allowed to take the test. The School Committee should direct principals
to inform parents of this option, as some in Cambridge have done. In the
meantime, parents can work through their School Site Council, which is
charged with overseeing school-level education policy. And to build the
statewide movement, parents can sign the Parents'
Call to Resist.
Also in the works is a campaign by teachers to refuse to administer MCAS.
Brookline Educators Association President Phil Katz is one of the organizers.
This MassRefusal effort should
attract significant attention next spring, especially when parents publicize
With BrooklineCARE pushing our cautious School Committee to put more
teeth into its MCAS opposition, parents keeping their children out of
the test, and teachers following their conscience, we can protect Brookline's
kids while building the movement to extend excellent education to every
Commonwealth child. That sounds to me like a good curriculum project for
the rest of this school year.