Mass. Board of Ed Adds Science to High-Stakes Tests

K-12 Testing

Ignoring appeals from science educators and state legislators for real science education, not test preparation, the Massachusetts Board of Education voted in late June to require passage of science exams for graduation, beginning with the Class of 2010.


A group of prominent Massachusetts scientists and science educators had called on state officials to oppose adding science tests as graduation requirements, saying such exams would undermine science education and drive students away from careers in science. The Board had invited the public to comment on its proposal to add tests in science to the already required English and math exams, but as in the past with this board, there was no indication public comment was heeded.


Making similar arguments as the scientists, a group of 52 state lawmakers also signed letters to the state Board of Education seeking a delay in the implementation of high-stakes science exams, saying there is not yet a level playing field for students in districts that lack laboratory equipment and qualified instructors. The legislators included seven out of 16 members of the House Education Committee, including the vice chair.


The scientists said they support the improvement of public school science instruction by emphasizing experiments, data gathering, observation, and interpretation. They said adding science to the current Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) graduation tests would undermine efforts to improve science education by replacing quality instruction and students' direct experience using the scientific method with rote memorization.


"Natural science is an experimental subject; it cannot be taught properly without inquiry and manipulation, without doing science," according to Professor George Hein of Lesley University, who signed the scientists' letter. "To the extent that a single paper-and-pencil test is used as a graduation requirement, that reinforces the tendency to teach science as memorizing facts and algorithms and simplified theories and generalizations."


The group includes science and education professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Lesley University, The University of Massachusetts/Boston, University of Massachusetts/Lowell, Northeastern University, and other institutions. The effort was organized by the Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education and supported by a range of state education organizations, as well as FairTest.