Having a Child with Down Syndrome (in Massachusetts), part LXVIII: MCAS

Copyright © 2013 Stephen Hawley, all rights reserved.

This is my first post on this and likely not my last.  As part of No Child Left Behind, Massachusetts instituted the MCAS tests.  These are tests that are given to students in Massachusetts in grades 3-10 (except grade 9).  The grade 10 test is used to determine if you are going to get a high school diploma.  8 years ago, I had a job doing IT, technology administration, and teaching at the smallest public school in the state and it was there that I became familiar with the MCAS test and how the schools deal try to game the system as much as possible.  The commonwealth has laws that require districts to improve and to spend resources planning and publishing those plans.  The main instrument to measure improvement is performance on the MCAS.  Where I was teaching, there were two things that were done to keep out of the spotlight of the state:

  1. Every student was required to take two specific classes in taking the MCAS.  These were classes dedicated to learning how to take the MCAS standardized (one in English, and one in Math, IIRC).  Just to emphasize – these were not classes so much in subject matter but in test taking strategy.
  2. Students who were thought to be underperforming were identified in 7th and 8th grade and the parents were strong-armed to move the kids into the local vocational school.

These two things sound ridiculous–and they were–but this is a small school district.  The graduating class was routinely 20 kids.  If two kids were having a bad day on test day, then 10% of the class might fail the test, which is bad news for the school.  You can see why they try to game the system.

Alice is in 3rd grade and we started talking MCAS last year because she is taking it for the first time this year and without extra prep, she’s going to have a rough time this year (and subsequent years).  Massachusetts hasn’t done well with the MCAS with people with cognitive disabilities (see Tracey Newhart).



Alice as a baby in Tracey Newhart’s lap at the MDSC convention

There is an alternative assessment available, which is a portfolio-based assessment.  The (former) head of our SPED department noted in a meeting the Massachusetts rarely accepts them.  He mentioned a number of the total accepted and I can’t recall it, but it was fewer than 10.

So we are trying to move Alice forward in preparing for the disaster that is the MCAS.  Fortunately, we have Alice and I have hope and belief in her:


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