The Massachusetts Story
The latest TIMSS test results, which rank student performance in math and science across different countries, included an interesting side note: Students in Massachusetts (Minnesota, too) scored a lot better than the U.S. average and ranked well alongside some top-performing countries. Read the Boston Globe's story here.
I've long wondered what's going on in Massachusetts, which also routinely places first in national math tests, including the 2007 NAEP tests in math and reading for fourth- and eighth-graders. So I asked around.
I talked with Abigail Thernstrom, who served on the state's Board of Education for more than a decade, starting in 1995. She suggested that strong curriculum guidelines and a good exit exam for high school students have helped set the tenor for education there. The state's learning standards have become models for other states and school systems, including the District of Columbia.
"We were really determined to have a system of standards and accountability that was serious and that set a relatively high bar for children to get over," she said.
Education Week's 2008 Quality Counts report also show some social indicators that work in the state's favor. Its "Chance for success" index shows that the level of parent education is highest in the nation. Nearly 60 percent of students have at least one parent with a postsecondary degree (compared to the national average of 43 percent.) The state also comes in near the top in family income and the portion of three- and four-year-olds who are enrolled in preschool.
On the flip side, the report also shows that achievement was not widely distributed. Gaps in performance on the NAEP tests, based on economic indicators, were wider in Massachusetts than almost anywhere else.
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