The Codcast: Missed opportunities with new K-12 plan

Ben Forman talks MA state plan

Massachusetts is about to submit to the US Department of Education its plan for monitoring and holding schools accountable under the new Every Student Succeeds Act, the law passed in late 2015 that replaced the No Child Left Behind law.

The new law, which, like the No Child statute, is really a reauthorization of landmark 1965 legislation creating a bigger federal role in overseeing and funding education, gives states more leeway in how they hold schools and districts accountable for improving student outcomes.

MassINC research director Ben Forman and Linda Noonan, executive director of the Massachusetts Alliance for Education, say the state plan mainly holds pat.

“They maintain the status quo,” Forman says of the continued focus on measures of core academic achievement. “There’s a very compelling argument” to do so, he says, pointing to the steady improvements seen under the current system, with Massachusetts topping national rankings of student outcomes, and competitive internationally when benchmarked against other countries.

But both of them see big missed opportunities to push our system forward — and some danger from complacency and reliance on what we’ve done up until now.

Both expressed disappointment that the state plan does not include accountability measurements that are more targeted on “college and career readiness.”

“We’re only measuring whether they’re graduating with the skills in one domain,” Forman says of the high-stakes 10th grade test of English and math skills that students must pass to graduate from high school. Most are passing, yet many aren’t ready for post-secondary education, he says. 

Forman says the system could have included measures of whether students have been awarded credit for AP classes or received credits through early college coursework, both of which have been shown to be good predictors of persistence and degree completion in post-secondary studies. “Nothing gives a principal an incentive to pursue those,” he says of the state plan.

The state is currently revamping its testing system. Noonan says there needs to be more frank acknowledgement that the test the state had been using was never designed to measure college and career readiness. “It’s a 10th grade test that measures basic 8th grade skills,” she says. “It was designed to be a floor, it was designed to be the level every student would get to. Over time it has become a ceiling,” she says of the focus on the high pass rates on the 10th grade test now recorded at nearly all high schools.

The bottom line: They say it’s no time to rest on our laurels, and the state should remain open to rethinking its plan and embracing new measures going forward.


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Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth Beacon

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