Independent Review Applauds Quality of Massachusetts' Educational Standards and Tests- Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
For Immediate Release
Wednesday, October 17, 2001
Contact:Heidi B. Perlman, 781-338-3106 or Jonathan Palumbo, 781-338-3105

Independent Review Applauds Quality of Massachusetts' Educational Standards and Tests

Boston - Massachusetts' system of academic standards and high-stakes testing is one of the best-designed in the country, and its 10th grade exam stands out as a national example of success, according to a new independent evaluation by education experts.

Achieve, Inc., a bipartisan, nonprofit national organization, has completed in-depth evaluations of the standards in nine other states, and found Massachusetts to be the only one with both high standards and a quality exam.

State education officials and Achieve President Robert Schwartz released the report at a press conference on Wednesday.

"We're impressed with the strong foundation Massachusetts has built to help educators improve student performance," Schwartz said. "It's a solid example for policymakers across the country."

Achieve's six-month study compared Massachusetts' K–12 mathematics to standards from around the world. Researchers also analyzed the alignment and rigor of the 10th grade Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams in English and mathematics.

The state's English standards were not reviewed because Achieve determined in a previous review that they are among the best in the nation and uses them as "exemplary standards" in its benchmarking work with other states.

Overall, researchers determined that the MCAS math and English grade 10 exams are the best exit exams they have reviewed.

"Most states are putting in place new graduation exams that measure higher standards," Schwartz said. "They should look to Massachusetts for guidance. Its 10th-grade standards and exams are well conceived and well connected."

Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift lauded the strength of the exam, and the accomplishments of the state's students. State results from the 2001 administration of the test showed that failure rates on the 10th grade mathematics and English exam dropped dramatically last spring, the first time students were tested knowing high stakes were involved.

"The MCAS test was designed to challenge all of our students at all levels," she said. "I have seen firsthand the creative and innovative changes the exam has spurred in classrooms all across our state and am grateful to the educators who are working hard to help students meet the high expectations we have set for them. Achieve's findings confirm what policymakers in Massachusetts have known -- our standard is world-class."

Achieve commended Massachusetts for standards that are clear, well written and challenging. It said the 10th-grade tests were appropriately rigorous and very well matched to the standards they were designed to measure. In previous benchmarking reviews, Achieve has found only two states with well-designed tests and no others with such strong alignment between the standards and tests.

Achieve encouraged state leaders to focus on three technical improvements. Most importantly, reviewers said the English language arts 10th-grade test focused too much on literature at the expense of nonfiction or informational items. The state should ensure the tests measure students' ability to read both fiction and nonfiction texts. Second, reviewers said the 10th-grade mathematics test included a number of questions ostensibly measuring student knowledge of numbers but that are more tightly aligned to algebra concepts. The state should ensure an appropriate balance among mathematical areas in subsequent rounds of testing.

"Massachusetts has proceeded deliberately and thoughtfully as it's worked for the past decade to raise expectations for students," said Massachusetts Board of Education Chairman James Peyser. "This review helps confirm what we see as our strength, and guide us toward areas where we need to improve."

Achieve's study was prompted by a request from the Massachusetts Department of Education earlier this year.

"Standards, and assessments to measure those standards, are the foundation of school improvement efforts in our state. We want to ensure our tools are the very best they can be and do the best job possible preparing students to be successful," said Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll. "We're proud of the report's overall findings and look forward to addressing the issues Achieve has raised."

In addition to the benchmarking review, Achieve also is conducting a "policy review" of the state's efforts to improve school accountability, help students and schools meet the standards, and communicate with the public about these changes. The report will be completed in late fall. Similar studies are underway in Maryland, Oklahoma and Texas.

In past years, Achieve has completed comparable studies in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Minnesota, Oregon, and Wisconsin.

Established in 1996, Achieve is an independent, bipartisan, nonprofit organization created by governors and business leaders to help states improve standards and performance in America's schools. Achieve works primarily with state leaders and serves as a clearinghouse and resource center on education standards, testing and accountability issues. It has offices in Cambridge, Mass., and Washington, D.C.

Last Updated: October 17, 2001

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