Study: Mass. English, Math Performance
By J.D. Capelouto
BOSTON -- Massachusetts public schools’ performance in English and math has “deteriorated” since the state adopted education standards similar to Common Core in 2010, a new report by the Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank, asserts.
The Pioneer study, released Tuesday, found that the educational quality in math and English has declined, and led a dip in scores on a national report card.
In 2010, Massachusetts adopted national Common Core standards for math and English -- a shift from what the state had been doing since it reformed the education system in the 1990s. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education tweaked the standards slightly in March, resulting in what some deemed a rebrand of Common Core.
Common Core supporters argue that a national baseline for education is necessary, and Massachusetts -- widely considered the best state for public schools -- effectively prepares students.
“Since Massachusetts has adopted Common Core -- that’s what these standards are -- Massachusetts is now a negative growth state,” said Jamie Gass, director of Pioneer’s Center for School Reform. “We know that these are demonstrably weaker standards.”
The Pioneer study was conducted by three independent researchers from around the country. According to the institute, it is the first independent evaluation of the revised standards since the tweaks were approved in March.
Massachusetts went down two points on its reading score on the National Assessment of Educational Progress report card from 2011 to 2015 -- one of a handful of states that declined over that time period. In math, Massachusetts went down 4.4 points from 2011 to 2015.
Massachusetts overall still ranked first in the country under NAEP’s scoring in 2015, though the state’s score for eighth grade reading was one point behind New Hampshire’s.
“We are backsliding,” Gass said. “There really needs to be a kind of gut check here on how Massachusetts proceeds.”
Gov. Charlie Baker expressed opposition to Common Core before the 2010 adoption. A proposed 2016 initiative question would have asked voters to get rid of Common Core, but failed to make the ballot. Baker did not weigh in on the initiative last year.
Pioneer, which has established itself as solidly anti-Common Core, concluded that the state’s English standards do not adequately prepare students since they “brush aside knowledge of Western and English literary traditions,” one of the study authors, Emory University English professor Mark Bauerlein, said in a news release.
Gass said the English curriculum pushes for more multicultural texts (rather than American and English classics), but is not specific enough about how to implement them into courses.
“These kinds of [classic] texts not only teach us about our common humanity,” he said, “they bind together generations of citizens.”
In the math curriculum, students are not learning algebra early enough, the institute wrote in the report, leaving them behind students in countries like China and Japan.
Additionally, students do not typically learn ratios, percentages and properties until sixth grade in Massachusetts -- a statistic the Pioneer Institute found problematic.
“It now leaves kids in Massachusetts two or three years behind, and that’s a big problem,” Gass said of the math standards.
Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, said the report is a “distraction” from more important issues facing public education. As an organization, the union does not take a position on Common Core.
Madeloni, who had not yet read the entire Pioneer study, said using major standardized tests -- such as the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System -- to rank and measure achievement is “narrow and corrupting.” Pioneer wrote in its report that the MCAS tests have been “watered down to align to Common Core.”
“Using testing in a high-stakes manner is poisoning our schools,” Madeloni said. “It is giving not only a narrow curriculum, but a very narrow sense of what’s possible.”
The state’s Executive Office of Education was not available for comment.