Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What We Do to Improve Test Scores

In today's Lynn (MA) Daily Item, there was an article about the Marshall Middle School's implementation of a Saturday morning math boot camp that aims to help students raise their MCAS scores. While a great idea in theory, it is a little troubling to see that my former school offered two slices of pizza and a can of soda as an incentive for students to enroll in this program. Is that what we must resort to in order to raise test scores - handing out junk food?

Indeed, Marshall has been plagued by low MCAS scores for several years now. In 2010, 74% of 6th graders, 80% of 7th graders, and 73% of 8th graders scored a 'needs improvement' or 'failing' on the math portion of the MCAS (Marshall students did slightly better on the English portion with 60% of 6th graders, 53% of 7th graders and 41% 8th graders needing improvement or failing). Likely because of these less than stellar scores and pressure from the state and federal government, public schools like Marshall are turning toward all sorts of tactics and methods to raise test scores. In Marshall's case, a math boot camp has been coupled with weekly pizza parties. It is not entirely clear that one could say that giving out pizza and soda is a complete misstep, but something about this practice still feels a little wrong. It's unfortunate that we have to "bribe" children with things in order to get them to participate in activities which serve to strengthen their intellectual abilities. On the other hand, I never was a big math fan and the idea of giving up Saturday to "play" math games does not sound too appealing, so the draw is understandable. Still, I wonder where the US educational system is heading when programs such as this are created not to promote learning math (or any other subject) for its usefulness, but most importantly as a means to raise a single test score.

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