Massachusetts can be proud of the achievements of its 15-year-olds on the International Student Assessment Tests, where its scores were higher than those of the United States as a whole. The concern is that the state may be embarking upon a path that will bring it down to those U.S. levels.
This was the first time the state participated in the tests, according to The Boston Globe, which included 65 countries, cities, states and provinces. The state's best performance in the tests, which were administered in the fall of 2012, were in reading, where it finished fourth. It finished seventh in science and 10th in mathematics. Massachusetts outscored Connecticut and Florida, the two other states that entered. Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore dominated the exams, which is usually the case for Asian entries.
The United States finished well below Massachusetts and many nations on the tests, prompting Education Secretary Arne Duncan to describe the U.S. effort as "a picture of educational stagnation." Yet Massachusetts, motivated by the pursuit of additional federal education dollars, has signed on to the national Common Core educational program. The standardized MCAS exams in Massachusetts have many weaknesses, largely involving teaching to the test, but evidence suggests that the Common Core standardized exams are even more problematic. The Pioneer Institute's Center for School Reform argues that the Common Core, which it asserts emphasizes "soft skills" like global awareness, media literacy and cross-cultural flexibility, is deficient in the practical skills of reading, science and mathematics and will leave state students at a disadvantage as it is implemented.
Massachusetts' performance on this and other tests has given it a good argument to pursue waivers from Common Core or to slow its implementation. Common Core's theoretically noble purpose is to bring low-scoring states up to a higher national standard, but in the process it should not bring states down to what for them is a lower national standard. "Education is the commonwealth's calling card around the world and central to our competitiveness in the global economy," said Governor Deval Patrick to The Globe in response to the test results. He is correct, and 20 years of education reform in the commonwealth cannot be jeapordized by a well-meaning but in this case a counter-productive federal program.