We're all for quality and high standards in public education. But the taxpayers of Massachusetts should be asking some hard questions about the cost of and need for revamping the state's standardized testing system.
For the coming year, at least, school districts will be permitted to choose between the familiar Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS exams, and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Career tests.
So far, according to Mitchell Chester, state commissioner of elementary and secondary education, 57 percent of school districts have opted for PARCC tests next spring.
Whatever the final numbers prove to be, it's clear that Massachusetts public schools will be running an experiment in 2014-15, with lots of debate and feedback.
But has anyone paused to consider whether any change was needed? Has anyone considered whether it makes any sense to spend millions to prepare for new tests, when Massachusetts has made solid progress for 20 years with MCAS?
We know that Mr. Chester chairs the PARCC consortium that developed the new tests, and that PARCC tests are designed to work with the Common Core curriculum that Massachusetts has accepted — even while some critics charge it represents a retreat in quality.
Mr. Chester insists no decision has been made on whether the state will ultimately choose PARCC or stay with MCAS, but it's hard to believe he doesn't have a preference, and harder still to accept that education officials would embrace Common Core without PARCC.
The more fundamental question is what has changed that requires new curriculum guidelines or tests. Did the elements of geometry change? Were rules for the use of the subjunctive suspended? Did the periodic table decay or expand?
And why would the state introduce a new testing regimen that may soon require taxpayers to invest at least $75 million in connectivity and equipment upgrades so that schools not currently up to technological snuff can take PARCC tests?
No doubt many schools could use better technology, but such needs ought to be met as needed for providing basic instruction today, not driven by a testing regime that comes wrapped in the Common Core.
Anyone who studies the curriculum frameworks that were at the heart of the 1993 Massachusetts education reform effort can see that they were built for performance and built to last.
A generation later, a new set of educational bureaucrats may perceive an expiration date where none exists. If unquestioned and unchecked, their experiment is likely to cost Massachusetts taxpayers many millions of dollars for bells and whistles, IT experts, consultants, retrofits, and, yes, more bureaucrats.
But will it yield any gains in education achievement? And, with MCAS in the rearview mirror, and Common Core and PARCC likely in the near future, will anyone be able to offer a meaningful comparison and draw useful conclusions about where public education in Massachusetts should head next?
Probably not, which means more studies, more research, and more time and treasure expended on arguing over the forms of education, rather than mastering its contents.
We're beginning to suspect that that's the whole idea behind these changes, and that the problem with education reform in Massachusetts today is the educator reformers themselves.
Monday, June 23, 2014
The Problem With Education Reform Centers On The Education Reformers Themselves
An editorial in The Worcester Telegram and Gazette: