MCAS test flunks at city schools

Michael Maguire, Boston Herald, January 28, 2017

All parents and students know about the MCAS but few know its origin. The MCAS was the state Legislature’s response to the McDuffy v. Secretary of the Executive Office of Education lawsuit. McDuffy charged that poorer communities in Massachusetts were not receiving an equitable education relative to the wealthier towns. Nearly a quarter of a century later our “gateway” communities are still treated unfairly by the state.

The Ed Reform Act of 1993 gave us the MCAS — an acronym for Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. The current version has a mathematics, English language arts, and science component — hardly comprehensive. And the state’s strict adherence to the MCAS aids the wealthier towns and punishes the poorer towns — in direct violation of McDuffy.

The state sorts districts into five levels based upon arbitrary criteria. The trouble is that school districts are not compared to an empirical standard but instead are compared to each other. The lowest 20 percent of districts are automatically in the lowest categories. Not even the students of Lake Wobegon would be able to avoid this trap. And a trap it is as the impoverished districts will never surpass their wealthier counterparts because of the testing criteria itself.

We don’t need to spend millions of dollars each year on bubble tests to tell us that, generally speaking, suburban students will outperform inner-city kids.

Christopher Tienken, author of “Defying Standardization,” has written an algorithm to predict statewide test results based upon census factors within a district like the percentage of single-parent families, the percentage of high school and/or college graduates, and the percentage of families living in poverty. Tienken has run his predictive algorithm in New Jersey, Connecticut and Iowa and has successfully predicted that results of the high-stakes tests 60 percent to 80 percent of the time.

Any teacher could tell you the same thing without a complex formula.

But if we are to have “standards” by which schools are to be “measured,” then we ought to expand beyond math, English, and science. Including art and music would be fantastic, but by their very nature they are hard to quantify. However, foreign language acquisition is both necessary for our modern world and is not difficult to measure.

Roughly half of the students in the Boston Public Schools learned another language before learning English. Imagine if their marketable bilingual skills were celebrated by the MCAS and the state’s ranking system.

If suburban districts with virtually 100 percent native English speakers had only a few years to get their students to master a new language, then perhaps suburban superintendents would understand the impossible pressure placed upon urban superintendents by the demands of the English language MCAS. How is it remotely fair that students who arrive in the Boston Public Schools midyear with no English skills must take the same MCAS as students who grew up with a stay-at-home parent who spoke English to them every day since birth?

A popular quotation (often incorrectly ascribed to Albert Einstein) states “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it is stupid.”

Far from being underperforming, urban Level 5-rated schools are teaming with intelligent students. Let’s recognize their achievements in as many ways, and languages, as possible.

Michael Maguire teaches Latin and ancient Greek at Boston Latin Academy and serves on the Executive Board of the Boston Teachers Union. His views are his own.

Petition to Give Brookline Paraprofessionals a Fair Contract

Click this link to go to the petition to give Brookline public school paraprofessionals a fair contract.



  1. increase in hourly wages (to a livable wage!)
  2. more hours
  3. job security

No one who works in Brookline schools full time should be expected to live in poverty!


We urge Brookline parents and community members to stand with us.

  • Share this petition with Brookline community members/parents
  • Attend a school committee meeting.  Sign up to speak to express your support for Brookline educators.  Calendar of meetings:,&Keywords=&startDate=&enddate=&
  • Call and email school committee,,,,,,,
  • Write a letter to the Brookline Tab expressing your support for all Brookline educators.
  • Attend a community forum on February 9: a chance to envision our values and the school system our children deserve. All Saint's Church, 6-8:30pm
  • To volunteer in other ways, contact the beu at or 617-277-0251


I Can’t Answer These Texas Standardized Test Questions About My Own Poems

Sara Holbrook, author/poet/educator, Huffington Post, 01/04/2017


When I realized I couldn’t answer the questions posed about two of my own poems on the Texas state assessment tests (STAAR Test), I had a flashes of panic – oh, no! Not smart enough. Such a dunce. My eyes glazed over. I checked to see if anyone was looking. The questions began to swim on the page. Waves of insecurity. My brain in full spin.

The two poems in question are A REAL CASE, appearing on the 2014 Grade 7 STAAR Reading Test, and MIDNIGHT, appearing on the 2013 Grade 8 STAAR Reading Test. Both poems originally appeared in Walking on the Boundaries of Change, Boyds Mills Press, 1998.

Let me begin by confessing that A REAL CASE is my most neurotic poem. I have a pile of them to be sure, but this one is the sour cherry on top. The written evidence of my anxieties, those evil gremlins that ride around on tricycles in my mind shooting my self-confidence with water pistols. How in the name of all that’s moldy did thispoem wind up on a proficiency test?

Dose of reality: test makers are for-profit organizations. My poems are a whole lot cheaper than Mary Oliver’s or Jane Kenyon’s, so there’s that. But how would your vulnerable, nervous, number two pencil-gripping seventh grade self have felt opening your test packet to analyze poetic lines such as this: I’m just down with a sniffly case/of sudden-self-loathing-syndrome…an unexpected extra serving/ of just-for-now-self-hate.

Seriously? Hundreds of my poems in print and they choose THAT one? Self-loathing and self-hate? Kids need an extra serving of those emotions on testing day?

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Drop High-Stakes Tests

Boston Herald, January 03, 2017

Adding a high-stakes history exam to the MCAS testing battery would encourage Trivial Pursuit-style memorization rather than real knowledge of the subject (“History on the march,” Dec. 22).

The National Academy of Sciences summed up decades of research in 2011. It found that high school graduation tests fail to ensure that students have the knowledge and skills needed for college and career success. The exams do, however, depress graduation rates. They also push schools to focus on what is easily tested, not what is most important.

A growing recognition that these tests do more harm than good is behind a nationwide trend to abandon them. Over the past several years, the number of states requiring graduation exams has plunged from 27 to 13.

Massachusetts should scrap all its graduation tests, not add a new one. The savings should be invested in underfunded schools.

— Lisa Guisbond, FairTest, Jamaica Plain