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SCIENTISTS CALL FOR DEEPER SCIENCE EDUCATION, NOT MORE MCAS TESTS
A group of prominent Massachusetts scientists and science educators is calling on state officials to oppose adding MCAS science tests as a high school graduation requirement. The state Board of Education is scheduled to vote on such a proposal at its meeting on Tuesday June 28.
The scientists, who issued their statement at a press conference at 10:00 am today in Room 222 at the State House, support the improvement of public school science instruction by emphasizing experiments, data gathering, observation, and interpretation. They say adding science to the current math and English MCAS graduation tests would undermine efforts to improve science education in the Commonwealth by encouraging rote memorization instead of quality instruction and students' direct experience using the scientific method.
Speakers at the press conference included: Professor of Education Emeritus George Hein of Lesley University, a chemist and author of a leading book on assessing science learning; Bruce Jackson, Prof. of Biomedical Engineering and Biotechnology at U/Mass Lowell; Melissa Kosinsky-Collins, a Howard Hughes science education fellow in the Biology Department at M.I.T; Eugene Gallagher, Associate Professor, Environmental Sciences, U/Mass Boston; Monty Neill, Co-Director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing; Joseph A. O'Sullivan, an earth science teacher for 19 years at Brockton Public High School; and Jonathan King, Professor of Biology at M.I.T.
"Natural science is an experimental subject; it cannot be taught properly without inquiry and manipulation, without doing science," according to Prof. George Hein. "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." Melissa Kosinski-Collins talked about the importance of hands-on laboratory and classroom experiences in helping young people develop an interest in science. Monty Neill noted that "it is both desirable and entirely feasible to use performance assessments in evaluating student learning in science."
Some expressed concern that the MCAS science test would alienate students from learning about science. "A high-stakes science MCAS test will retard science education rather than advance it, will push kids out of school rather than engage their minds," said Jonathan King of M.I.T. "The millions of dollars spent on test development and implementation will be diverted from the laboratory facilities and staff additions needed to make science instruction effective and interesting for young people."
Neill added, "A large number of students, especially those from communities with fewer resources, will be prevented from graduating by this new requirement."
Joseph A. O'Sullivan of Brockton noted that the new requirement would further "punish property-tax-poor communities for not being as successful" because of the lack of adequate lab facilities and other teaching resources.
The press conference was sponsored by the Massachusetts Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education (MassCARE Inc.); the Alliance for High Standards, NOT High Stakes; and Citizens for Public Schools. To see the full Statement on Science MCAS and the list of those who signed, visit www.parentscare.org.