Student interest gets dampened

September 10, 2009

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SCOT LEHIGH (“The lessons of MCAS,’’ Op-ed, Sept. 4) quotes Mitchell Chester, state education commissioner as saying, “If we don’t prepare students well for the world after high school by including a strong grounding in science, then we have done them a disservice.’’ The wrong assumption that both Lehigh and Chester make is that passing a standardized test is the best way to achieve this.

A strong grounding in science means having students do real science in school, not cover everything from anatomy to zoology in the hopes of making sure students “know’’ enough to pass the test. Doing science is messy, takes time, and should be filled with lots of room for students to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. That is happening less and less as pressure to do well on these tests has become the mantra in public education.

When I first became a science teacher 25 years ago, the question we struggled with was: How do I engage all my students in doing science? Today the predominant question is: How do I get my students to pass the test? The look on students’ faces has changed from inquisitive and wondering to bored and apathetic.

Lehigh downplays Marilyn Segal’s concern that MCAS dampens student interest in science, and then asserts that we should all relax because students will rise to the challenge. He may like the fact that schools have been turned into test prep factories. Here is one educator who will stand with Segal.

Garret Virchick
The writer teaches in the Boston Public Schools.

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