To the Editor:
Education Week readers should know that Massachusetts’ stellar scores in science and math in both grade 4 and grade 8 on the 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study are due to more than strong academic standards and content-oriented professional development (“Standards Help Minn. Vie With Top Nations,” Jan. 21, 2009.) As in Minnesota, the only other U.S. state to participate in TIMSS in both 1995 and 2007, many factors have contributed to impressive gains, an indication of the latest “Massachusetts Miracle.”
I was the deputy commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Education from 1999 to 2003, responsible not only for assuring the academic quality of the state’s math and science standards (with considerable help from mathematicians and scientists), but also for aligning the state’s teacher-licensing regulations, and the revised licensure tests based on them, directly to these standards. The new licensure tests for elementary and middle school teachers, in particular, stressed content, not pedagogy, and weighted math and science more heavily than before, leading to an academically stronger teacher corps in K-8 since 2002.
But there is one more factor your article mysteriously fails to note that is obvious to everyone in the Bay State: the high-quality Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS, testing program, which is based on the state’s strong content-oriented standards. Without annual accountability, as well as the pride most of the state’s educators have in teaching to high standards and reflecting higher standards themselves, this “miracle” wouldn’t have occurred.
Professor of Education Reform
21st Century Chair in Teacher Quality
University of Arkansas
A version of this article appeared in the February 11, 2009 edition of Education Week as Another State Whose Standards Help It Vie With Top Nations