Editorials and Opinions

Uniform standards detrimental to public schools in Massachusetts

By Alexandra Fen
Published: April 2010

The Obama Administration’s proposed national academic standards have met considerable debate in several states. Massachusetts has decided to stay firm on the state’s own education quality and not adopt these standards unless they measure up to those established in the state.

Adopting national academic standards would be a major setback for Massachusetts. Massachusetts has long held a reputation as having the most rigorous academic expectations in the country and adopting these standards would undo years of work in bolstering that quality of the state’s schools, which began with the passage of the Education Reform Act in 1993.

The standards, which have been developing for more than a year now under the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, are moving closer to Massachusetts’ expectations, but some areas lag behind.

Students in Massachusetts routinely score highest on national standardized tests because of the state’s rigorous standards. Changing the standards would truly represent regression in school systems in Massachusetts and around the country.

The revised standards, which were released earlier this month, outline which English and math materials should be taught at each grade level in the nation’s public schools.

The national benchmarks rely too heavily on broad skills and lack rich abstract content at every grade level.

“[The national standards] are generic standards that can be applied to any grade level that you want. They don’t give teachers any guidance about what makes a standard at grade eight anymore difficult than at grade six, former associate education commissioner Sandra Stotsky said.

Adopting the national standards would most likely lead to an overhaul of state standardized tests.

The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) for example, is a state-wide exam based on prescribed standards. Adopting national standards would mean a nation-wide test that would likely replace state-wide exams like MCAS, so that the tests follow new national standards more closely.

The possibility of a nation-wide standardized test has aroused considerable debate among states, school districts and teachers.

MCAS is already a disputed institution in Massachusetts’s school systems and a national exam would just spread this debate nationwide.

The Obama Administration’s push for uniform standards is admirable as it is an effort to mend a disparity in the American education system.

But the way to fix the inequality is not to raise standards in some states and lower them in others in an effort to reach an equilibrium of sorts.

The Obama Administration should instead, apply these standards to states falling behind in order to gradually elevate their standards to a level that equals that of Massachusetts and other similar states.

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