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Monday, June 23, 2014

Debate Over Dueling Test Systems Avoids Larger Education Questions

From The Boston Globe Letters

June 23, 2014

To the Editor:

I read with interest James Vaznis’s June 19 article about the controversy over adopting the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test (PARCC) or sticking with the MCAS (“Schools are weighing in on MCAS as deadline to choose nears,” Metro), on the heels of reports of states opting out of the Common Core standards.

These debates avoid larger questions.

We’ve had “standards” and testing for 15 years, we’ve tightened the screws on teacher evaluations, and we’ve stripped away budgets for social and emotional supports in favor of pacing guides and adoption of standards.

 Still, few business people and parents I meet think we are better off. Now we’re bickering over yet another iteration of assessments, pushed by the federal Department of Education and private-sector allies.

We should be discussing bigger issues. What does intellectually challenging work — i.e., “rigor” — really look like in this day and age? Success in contemporary business, social, and public life requires a mix of self-awareness, collaboration, resilience, and empathy, none of which correlates to success on standardized tests.

Of course students need to read, write, compute, conduct research, and present their work. But the global culture of design innovation, inquiry, interdisciplinary synthesis, and rapid adaptation depends on the nimbleness of the human mind, not the individual’s capacity to memorize facts.

We should be discussing students’ growing disinterest in learning. The standardization of information and testing continue to present a huge barrier to the kinds of passionate learning and innovative teaching parents seek for their children.

PARCC and MCAS are ways to define and maintain control of the learning environment. To part ways with the idea of a century-old curriculum, with its comforting standardization and predictability, in favor of real inquiry-based teaching is daunting. But this profound shift is indispensable to providing a quality education for every student.

Larry Myatt

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Dr. Larry Myatt was the founder of Fenway High School, winner of a number of national and regional awards, a pioneer in the small schools and school-to-career movements and an advisor to Boston’s High School Renewal Initiative. He was a key member of the HSR-Parthenon Group Off-Track Study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and led the companion Alternative School Quality Review initiative.

He co-founded Boston’s Center for Collaborative Education and founded and directed the Greater Boston Principal Residency Network at Northeastern University from 2000-2008. He is a former Coalition of Essential Schools National Faculty member at Brown University and a professional development consultant at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, including being a facilitator of the Annenberg Superintendents Study Group.

Dr. Myatt is a recipient of the Harry S. Levitan Prize from his alma mater, Brandeis University, for career accomplishment in education. He is the author of numerous articles on leadership and school restructuring and has led and consulted to school re-design efforts in numerous cities and states. He is a Founding Convener for The Forum for Education and Democracy, and works actively nationwide to support efforts to reduce the high-school drop-out rate. He formerly served as Senior Fellow for Leadership and Education Ventures at Northeastern University, and holds both master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

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