Ignorance is Popular with Some in Massachusetts <br/> of

Ignorance is Popular with Some in Massachusetts

© David Burton 2021

Public-sector Unions

     To many of my fellow citizens in the People’s Democratic Commonwealth of Massachusetts, ignorance is bliss. These know-nothing individuals will never admit that some people are smarter than others, that some people have more ability in various aspects of life than others, that some people have more opportunities than others, or that simply put - all men and women are not really equal. All we can do as Americans is to try and guarantee everyone an equal opportunity to achieve the most that they are capable of and to which they aspire. - In other words, America cannot guarantee equality but it can – and must – guarantee equal opportunity!

     In September 2021, it was reported by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that MCAS scores plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic, with fewer than half of students meeting expectations in math and English. MCAS stands for Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System.
     MCAS “is Massachusetts's statewide standards-based assessment program developed in 1993 in response to the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of the same year. State and federal law mandates that all students who are enrolled in the tested grades and who are educated with Massachusetts public funds participate in MCAS testing.
     “If necessary, students are given multiple opportunities to take the test to maximize the chance that said student will pass the exam.” (Ref. 1)

     The September 2021 report on MCAS showed that, overall, just 46% of students in elementary and middle school were “meeting expectations” or higher in English language arts in 2021, and just 33% did so in math. That compared with 52% in English and 49% in math in 2019. There was no MCAS given in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
     “The results clearly illustrate how the disrupted school year of remote and hybrid learning impacted students’ academic achievement,” said the state’s Secretary of Education. The scores showed achievement gaps that were similar among racial and ethnic groups.
     As expected in Massachusetts - one of the top left-leaning states in the Union - where Democratic politicians and public employees unions are inseparable, the president of the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts said that the 2021 results demonstrated how MCAS was flawed. Heaven forbid that there be even a hint that all students weren’t somehow “equal”, that maybe some teachers weren’t doing as good a job as other teachers, or that there might be some quantitative, meaningful and useful way of measuring performance – by students, teachers and administrators.
     The Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) strongly opposed giving MCAS during the pandemic and was supporting a bill that would eliminate the MCAS graduation requirement and replace the test with a “broader” – and likely meaningless - framework to measure school, teacher and student quality. The teachers’ unions in Massachusetts have always been opposed to anything that could measure teachers’ teaching abilities – Horror of horrors - it could actually lead to the dismissal of incompetent teachers! The teachers’ unions and their enabling Democratic politicians would then suffer. But here in Massachusetts, ignorance is popular with some – particularly those who benefit from that ignorance.
     The president of the MTA said, “MCAS scores mostly measure the impact of structural racism in the form of underfunding of public schools and public health, along with housing, food and income insecurity.” TRANSLATION: Don’t blame us! Keep pouring more money down the rat hole without any means of determining the results.[2] Charging the MCAS with being racist is also an effective way of fighting against the test here in very liberal Massachusetts. Just Implying racial bias - whether true or not – is enough to raise the ire of the state’s do-gooders and seekers-of-just-causes.
     The MTA has long maintained that the MCAS simply measures the degree to which a community has been under-resourced and underfunded (meaning, Send more money!) without presenting a shred of evidence that any added funding produces meaningful improvements.[3]

     Back in 2002, a Boston high school student put forth some cogent reasons for supporting the then relatively new MCAS. His arguments remain valid today, some 19-years later. Here is my summary of what he wrote.

     MCAS been a big controversy for many years now. Critics have alleged that the test is racially biased, overly harsh and unfair. It has also been alleged that the tests are unreasonably difficult, and would keep tens of thousands of students from graduating.
     As a student who actually took the MCAS, the former student said that most of these fears and criticisms were unfounded. For one thing, he found that MCAS was not unreasonably hard. To be sure, in order to pass the test, the student had to be able to read competently, write coherently, and have a decent comprehension of algebra and geometry. Some big surprise! Isn’t that what our grade- and high-schools are supposed to do? Isn’t that what we should expect from our teachers and our school administrators? Isn’t that what we should expect of someone receiving a high school diploma?
     There is no question that a student who is unable to do all of these things fairly well may fail the test. But that is as it should be! Why should anyone who cannot meet these basic standards receive a diploma from high school and maybe even go on to waste time and money in college? We as a society indeed should do everything in our power to help those students who cannot read or write well, but at the end of the day, giving high school diplomas to those students who cannot read, write or do basic math is ridiculous. To set standards that low simply shortchanges them and everyone else. Sending an unqualified high school graduate on to college punishes the qualified graduate whose place in college was taken by the unqualified student and sets up the unqualified graduate to fail in college. An unqualified graduate receives a false sense of entitlement and a false sense of expectations that simply portends failure in that graduate’s future life. Better to let him/her know the truth and let him/her make the necessary adjustments to get along in life.
     The real problem is that many students in poor districts have never been asked to demonstrate their proficiency in reading or writing before.
     The challenge is to actually enforce higher standards instead of succumbing to the temptation is to relax those standards. We do the student no favor when we allow him/her to think he/she is qualified to graduate from high school when, in actuality, he/she isn’t. With rampant grade inflation allowing students who are only semi-proficient to earn decent grades, it seems clear that the poorer school districts in Massachusetts are not up to the challenge alone. MCAS is a necessary evil to make them enforce higher standards.
     No one likes being evaluated - state employees least of all - and as a result, many teachers and their teachers’ unions have long opposed the state standards. For them “Ignorance is Bliss!” Finally, as with any standard that gives minority students lower marks than Asian and white ones, MCAS has been continually opposed by groups who have absurdly labeled it racially biased. Nevertheless, in order to improve our public schools, especially those in poor neighborhoods, we're going to need some central standard, even if it is one that may be as imperfect as MCAS.[4]

     “Massachusetts is used to leading the nation in K-12 {Kindergarten through 12th grade} education. But that overall ranking obscures large, persistent inequities in student opportunity and achievement. These inequities would remain hidden without data from MCAS.” [Emphasis mine]
     “Because of MCAS we know, for example, that in 2019 28% of Black and 29% of Latinx third to eighth graders were on grade level or higher on the MCAS in math, compared with 56% of white third to eighth graders. Knowing this enables districts and the state to take targeted action to close these gaps. Yet the gaps likely grew wider during the pandemic when so many of our most disadvantaged students were learning remotely. MCAS is critical to understanding the full impact of this disruption and to guide the next steps for reaching students and classrooms that need more attention and investments.
     “. . . Students benefit when educators and policymakers can use MCAS data to develop strategies and target resources for addressing learning loss caused by the pandemic.
      - - -
     ”The MCAS’ value comes from its consistency and comparability. No other tool gives us a clear understanding, year after year, of student learning disaggregated by factors correlated with student opportunity, such as race or socioeconomic status. This knowledge allows educators and policymakers to identify progress or problems and align state resources and support to student need.
     “. . . While many districts use local diagnostic or interim tests to monitor student progress, these are not always aligned to grade level standards, shared with parents and other stakeholders, or consistent year to year and across districts. Local assessments are an important component of supporting student learning, but alone they cannot provide a complete picture of progress toward learning and equity goals.
      - - -
     “. . . MCAS data is necessary to track progress on each districts’ student achievement goals . . .
     “. . . While the MCAS is not the only tool to measure student learning, it is an important one for understanding where our schools have been successful and where we need more supports for students. . .” (Ref. 5)

     Without MCAS or some similar yardstick, there would be no means of comparing the performance of schools in one city or town in the state with that of another community. There would be no way of determining whether or not the school’s performance was improving with increasing state financial aid. There would be no way to know, a priori, how a graduate of one high school compared academically with the graduate of another high school in the state, or in the nation. There would be no quantitative way to predict whether or not a graduate was or wasn’t likely to fail in college before wasting that student’s time, money and self-esteem.

     Some in Massachusetts are simply opposed to the requirement that a student pass the MCAS test in order to receive his or her high school graduation diploma. “State and federal law mandates that all students who are enrolled in the tested grades and who are educated with Massachusetts public funds participate in MCAS testing.
      - - -
     “In the 10th grade, all students are required to pass this test. If they do not pass this test, they do not obtain a high school diploma, but rather a certificate of completion. . .
      - - -
     “{Some argue that} Massachusetts doesn't need to do away with MCAS entirely, just the graduation requirement. {Some} have no issues with administering tests to gather information on the knowledge of students. Use the information to see where children struggle, where they thrive, and adjust curriculum accordingly. Use the tests to measure district scores.” (Ref. 6)

     A high school diploma signifies something. It attests to the fact that the graduate has achieved a level of competence and accomplishment. Imagine a doctor who receives a certification to practice medicine without having to first prove that he/she is competent to practice medicine. Similarly with lawyers. Diplomas, licenses and certifications need to have meaning. How about giving everyone a driver’s license, whether or not they actually passed the driving test?

     Meaningful quantitative measures of performance are essential to understanding how our schools are performing and - just as importantly - how individual students are doing. Ignorance is unacceptable!

     As September 2021 came to a close, MCAS opponents were making a renewed push to scrap the exams, continuing to foist the canard that the decades-old assessments were exacerbating racial and other inequalities. The MTA president continued to claim that the MCAS testing system, which was developed by state education officials in response to the Education Reform Act of 1993, was “rooted in white supremacy.” She further charged that MCAS fostered racial inequality and injustice.
     Each year more than 70,000 students take the MCAS, the benchmark standardized test in Massachusetts for nearly 30 years which is designed to identify underperforming schools and districts as candidates for state intervention.
     In response to all the unwarranted criticsm, Massachusetts Governor, Charlie Baker, defended MCAS and subsequent education reforms he says have made Massachusetts schools the envy of the nation. He said he plans to be “aggressive” in upholding the state’s use of testing and other diagnostic tools.
     “People can say they don’t like MCAS one way or another, but the simple truth is MCAS ... was an enormous success,” the governor told reporters. “It gave Massachusetts what most people consider to be some of the best schools in the country and had a positive and significant impact on kids in underperforming school districts.”[7]


  1. Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, Wikipedia, Accessed 22 September 2021.
  2. MCAS scores take a nosedive during pandemic, Alexi Cohan, Boston Herald: Page 7, 22 September 2021.
  3. MCAS Results Promote False Narrative about Students and Public Education,
    Massachusetts Teachers Association, Merrie Najimy, 21 September 2021.
  4. 4MCAS: A student's vote in favor of testing, Boston Business Journal, Michael Brier, 7 January 2002.
  5. We need MCAS data to drive equitable educational recovery, Boston Business Journal,
    Jim Rooney and Ed Lambert, 29 April 2021.
  6. Remove the MCAS as a graduation requirement in MA, Change.org, Jennifer Chaves,
    Accessed 23 September 2021.
  7. Critics renew push to scrap MCAS testing, Gloucester Daily Times, Christian M. Wade, 21 September 2021.


18 November 2021 {Article 502; State_28}    
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