Taking a Page from the Bay State's Education Playbook

Massachusetts shows what reforms are necessary to help students succeed.


The success of the Massachusetts approach has important implications, especially as states roll out the new Common Core standards.

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Plus, the new standards come with new, next-generation tests that can replace some of the weaker tests that are currently in place, and help schools and districts reduce the overall number of tests. Too often state tests are merely multiple choice “bubble” tests that measure only how well kids can memorize information. A RAND analysis in 17 states found, for example, that none of the math tests covered higher-order thinking skills like a student's ability to explain his or her ideas or solve tough problems. The next-generation exams will take stock of academic skills and knowledge – not just the mindless repetition of information. The new exams will also test a much broader range of knowledge, include open-ended test items and essay questions and deliver results more quickly to teachers and principals, which will go a long way to improving instruction.

Massachusetts still has a lot of room to improve. Significant achievement gaps between white, affluent students and low-income and minority students still exist, and the state's achievement gains have been slowing over time. But in the end, we have a pretty good sense of some of the key elements of school improvement. High standards, well-designed tests of higher learning skills, genuine accountability, regular supports for teachers and extra help for low performing students and schools is the formula that worked in Massachusetts. Indeed, it made the state one of the highest achievers in the country. And today's new results from OECD only add further urgency to the case that the Massachusetts reforms worked.

In other words, now is the time for the nation to take a page from the Massachusetts reform playbook – and continue to push forward on the new Common Core standards.

Neera Tanden is president of the Center for American Progress. Paul Reville is a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the former secretary of education for Massachusetts.

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