The statewide results have been published for the 2012 round of Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) Tests. For anyone who’s been paying any attention to public schools and public education in Massachusetts, they hold no surprises.
There is a new twist to the results this year. The state has ranked schools in five separate levels, with number one meaning all is well and number five meaning almost nothing is well in your kids’ school.
The positive news about the 2012 MCAS results locally is that after sifting through its standardized tea leaves, the state has decided no school in Berkshire County is a level five nuclear waste zone. It did say that North Adams, Adams-Cheshire, and Pittsfield are Level 3 schools districts, with their work cut out for them.
And three schools, the Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter School, McCann Vocational Technical School, and Mt. Greylock Regional, have all been assigned a number one ranking by the state.
For anyone who decides to play along with the state and pretend these MCAS results mean anything, these results are certainly no surprise after they’ve been put into context with both a rough knowledge of how public education works in a right-to-fail state, along with the economic history of Berkshire County.
When it comes to its public education system, Massachusetts is a "right-to-fail" state.
But, as with most things in the unfortunate rub of the real world, that’s not how "right-to-fail" translates. What it really ends up meaning is that our public education system has to afford its students every conceivable opportunity to be educated regardless of their behavior. The sad truth in most Massachusetts public schools is that the worst behavior of the least committed students and the least involved families becomes a heavy anchor on the resources and time of every school’s staff and administration.
So it certainly comes as no surprise that two of the three school systems in Berkshire County judged by the state to be performing at the highest level on their MCAS tests do not have to operate under the constraints of "right-to-fail." By state law, both the BART charter school and the McCann Vocational Technical School can refuse to admit students they don’t want, and they can easily expel students who aren’t performing up to snuff or else are behaving badly.
And the achievement of a Level 1 MCAS ranking by Mount Greylock Regional, the third high performing school district in Berkshire County, speaks directly to the issue of the impact of the economic roller coaster history of Berkshire County over the last 50 years and its huge effect on every aspect of public life.
Mount Greylock Regional High School has long been regarded as one of the premier public secondary educational institutions in the entire state. Its core student constituency comes from Williamstown.
Like every other Berkshire County community, the Village Beautiful was hurt by the massive layoffs resulting from the nearly simultaneous closing of Sprague Electric in North Adams and General Electric in Pittsfield. But, owing to the strong economic and social foundation afforded by Williams College, it probably was the least impacted of any in terms of population loss and economic strength. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the performance of its educational system reflects this social and economic stability.
There remains the very real argument as to whether there is any meaning to the MCAS results at all. Standardized testing in public schools, trumpeted as proof positive of either shining success or dismal failure, seems to be a zero sum game. The only actual result of the results may eventually be students who are very good at taking the MCAS tests and little else.
Bill Donovan writes regularly for The Advocate. Feedback is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.