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Empty calories, full mind

Do planets orbit the Earth, the Moon, the galaxy, or the Sun? What Bostonian invented the telephone? What's the correct sequence of the metamorphosis of a butterfly? And would you care to "super size" your order?

When children in Lawrence, Mass., head to local McDonald's fast-food restaurants this spring, alongside their cheeseburgers and french fries, they'll be getting a pop quiz based on the statewide exam, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. The test was given for the first time last May to students in grades 4, 8, and 10.

Questions drawn from the science portions of the 1998 tests are being printed on 9,000 placemats and will be distributed at two McDonald's in Lawrence beginning this week. The three questions--one for each of the grades tested--will be printed in both English and Spanish.

Manny Gonzalez, who owns both franchises, said he came up with the idea when the 11,500-student district's scores on the new test were distributed this winter. An overwhelmingly poor and largely Hispanic district, Lawrence was among the lowest-scoring in the state, particularly on the science portion of the exam.

In an interview, Mr. Gonzalez said he hoped the effort, which he alone is underwriting, will send a message about the importance of brushing up for the tests.

"Kids will read the questions and talk about the answers--you know, quiz each other. I think it will make them more prepared" for the tests, said Mr. Gonzalez, a father of three from Puerto Rico who worked his way up from the deep-fryer to the owner's office.

Lawrence Superintendent Mabel E. "Mae" Gaskins hopes the effort will increase awareness about the tests--which many consider among the most difficult in the nation--and help "develop a sense of urgency of how important it is for children to be in school every day ready to learn."

State education department officials, who were not aware of the project, said it sounded great--after being assured that the questions were from last year's tests.

--Kerry A White

Vol. 18, Issue 27, Page 3

Published in Print: March 17, 1999, as Take Note

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