Mass. Board Approves Statewide Testing, Curriculum-Study Plan

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As the governor's task force on education and the education committee of the state legislature continue their study of the public schools, the Massachusetts Board of Education has approved mandatory statewide testing of students' basic skills and a curriculum-assessment plan for the schools.

The Massachusetts State Department of Education had sought approval of a statewide plan to test students' skills in reading, writing, and mathematics in grades 5, 9, and 12. But the state board voted last week to limit mandatory testing to 9th graders and to permit local school districts to administer basic-skills tests for elementary-school students at their own discretion.

The state board also approved a recommendation that the department develop curriculum-assessment tests in English, social studies, mathematics, science, languages, and computer literacy, to be administered to students at all grade levels.

Edward Melikian, a spokesman for the department of education, said the assessment tests will be used to determine weaknesses in the schools' curriculum. "The key is if the assessments are instituted in the early elementary grades, the department would be able to get some idea of program strengths," he explained.

Most school districts have established policies on basic-skills testing and have reported the results to the state department of education, according to Mr. Melikian. However, he said, the districts have not done well in putting into effect policies on remediation.

"The board has not been satisfied with the overall implementation of policy and felt that we needed to do something to improve the performance of the schools and the students themselves," Mr. Melikian said.

The department's testing and as-sessment plans will be submitted to Gov. Michael S. Dukakis and the General Assembly's Joint Education Committee, which has been conducting its own study of the state's education system and is scheduled to release a report on its findings next month.

The committee's report is expected to result in a number of recommendations for improving the schools.

The state board of education is scheduled to consider "model" curriculum standards for high-school students, according to Mr. Melikian. The department's proposal calls for separate requirements in English, mathematics, science, and foreign languages for college-bound and noncollege-bound students.

Currently, the only courses mandated by the state are U.S. history and physical education.

Mr. Melikian said the state commissioner of education has not urged the state board to set new curriculum requirements. He said the commissioner is offering the department's proposal as a model guide for districts that are considering upgrading graduation standards.

Hoping to capitalize on the school-reform climate in the state, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which represents about 55,000 teachers statewide, has submitted 28 education-related bills for consideration by the state legislature during its next session.

Two of those bills would increase the state's contribution to local education programs from about 37 percent to about 50 percent and ear-mark a portion of the state's allocations to cities and towns for use in the schools, according to Richard J. Durkin, consultant in governmental services for the teachers' union.

Mr. Durkin said the union has submitted the two funding proposals for consideration by the legislature in previous years. But he said the bills were never enacted.

This time, the union has incorporated nine educational concepts into one bill, which union officials hope will win approval, according to Mr. Durkin.

Some of those concepts include curriculum reform, class size, teacher certification and preparation, a state-supported school-improvement fund, and a fund for teacher-development projects.

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