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Published in Print: November 25, 1998, as Mass. Students Fare Poorly on New Standards-Aligned Tests

Mass. Students Fare Poorly on New Standards-Aligned Tests

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Although the majority of students performed poorly on Massachusetts' first standardized assessment aligned with the state's new standards, few school officials there say they will worry just yet.

Released last week, the scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System showed that most test-takers need improvement or failed some sections of the exam.

The results prompted acting Gov. Paul Cellucci to renew his call for current teachers, like prospective ones, to be tested. The test for teacher-candidates has caused major discord in the state. ("Mass. Reacts to More Test Data; Teacher Proposal Outlined," Aug. 5, 1998.)

The Republican governor-elect also called for the hiring of 4,000 new teachers and giving principals more authority to run their schools.

The test was administered last May to 4th, 8th, and 10th graders to measure their English/language arts, mathematics, and technology skills.

The scores "are what you'd more or less expect when setting a high-stakes test," acting Commissioner of Education David P. Driscoll said in an interview.

Seventy-four percent of 10th graders and 67 percent of 8th graders had only partial understanding of the math questions or failed the math section. Nearly 80 percent of 4th graders had partial understanding or failed the English/language arts segment. Forty percent of 8th graders failed the technology segment.

Test results showed few students in all categories have "proficient" or "advanced" skills--the highest level of performance.

Only in one category did most students perform adequately: Fifty-two percent of 8th graders were classified as proficient in English/language arts, while 3 percent were considered to have advanced skills.

The test was designed to be difficult and reflects what students need to know under the new state standards, Mr. Driscoll said.

Difficulty Curve

The standards were part of the state's 1993 Education Reform Act, a five-year, $3.25 billion plan that included developing curricula in seven subjects for all 356 Massachusetts school districts.

Teachers and students have only two years to upgrade the scores; this year's will be used as a baseline.

By the 2000-01 school year, 10th graders will be required to pass the exams in order to graduate from high school.

"Teaching becomes 'job one' now," said S. Paul Reville, a professor of education at Harvard University's graduate school of education. "If we hope to realize the ambitions of education reform--to get all students to a high level--we've got a long way to go."

Students who don't perform well will have the opportunity to catch up, Mr. Driscoll said.

The legislature has set aside $20 million to create academic-support programs for students that will be in place by spring, he said.

Teachers will continue to tinker with their teaching techniques and attend workshops to learn ways of enhancing student performance, Mr. Driscoll said.

Vol. 18, Issue 14, Page 5

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