David P. Driscoll, who announced last week that he will retire in August 2007 from his post as Massachusetts’ commissioner of education, knows that the reactions to his departure will be mixed.
“Much of the success we have experienced … has resulted from mandates—the ‘stick’ approach,” he said last week at a press conference in his Malden office, referring to the controversial state standards and assessments adopted during his eight-year tenure.
Indeed, the 64-year-old schools chief has ruffled more than a few feathers across the Bay State.
“Commissioner Driscoll cooperated with a very right-wing [state] board of education to push through harmful policies,” especially requiring high school students to pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS, in mathematics and language arts in order to graduate, said Monty Neill, the director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education. The statewide group opposes high-stakes testing.
Despite such criticism, one thing is certain: Test scores have gone up.
In 1998, 72 percent of the state’s 10th graders passed the state’s language arts test, and 48 percent passed the mathematics test. In 2006, those percentages had risen to 93 percent and 88 percent, respectively.
In addition, Massachusetts’ 4th and 8th graders ranked first in reading and tied for first in math on the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress exams. It was the first time that one state came in first or tied for first on four of the exams in one year.
And that progress in raising test scores has earned the chief the praise of national education figures.
In an interview last week, Kati Haycock, the director of the Education Trust, a Washington-based research and advocacy group for disadvantaged students, called Mr. Driscoll an “unusually ethical, unusually committed, unusually smart education leader.”
A version of this article appeared in the November 08, 2006 edition of Education Week