Responsibility in Action

Posted by James O'Shea on 3/30/2017

Responsibility in Action

This week I had the opportunity to hear Liz Suneby, author of Razia’s Ray of Hope, speak to our Sixth Graders about education in Afghanistan. The presentation focused on the struggle for women’s education in Afghanistan and it highlighted the extraordinary work of Razia Jan and what she and her collaborators and supporters have been able to accomplish in one school. The presentation along with our students’ participation in the dialogue demonstrated not only the intellectual engagement of our students with the political and economic challenges confronted by people across the globe, but it also highlighted the deep sense of empathy and caring which we seek to foster. The presentation is part of the “Poverty Project” which our Sixth Graders are working on right now.


Razia's Ray of Hope


The wonderful thing is that while this project may be some of our students most intense and informative exposure to the hardships and need, which exists in our world, it is not the only such experience they will be exposed to in our school. For some, however, it serves as a starting point for many other like-minded programs, which are carried out by our students. A few current examples of charitable programs initiated by our students are the Cradles to Crayons drive which is going on through April 4, and the Book Drive for the Lazarus House, which runs through the end of March. These are both student lead activities, which reflect the high value our school and our community place on responsibility and service. Each day I am impressed and appreciative of the work our faculty and staff do to further develop our students’ sense of agency and to create an environment where student action is encouraged.


Cradles to Crayons                     Book Drive                  Book Drive 2


If your interested, you can always check the announcements to stay informed about and support the variety of programs taking place in our school, and of course, if your child is interested in a particular cause, encourage them to speak to Mrs. Wilson or Dr. Sidell, to see how we might support their efforts.


Our students’ experiences shape their character and based upon the actions I have observed, our students are developing into thoughtful, creative, and responsible young adults, whom we all can be proud of.


Thoughts on State Assessment Participation


This week, I have received a few inquiries regarding student participation in the upcoming MCAS Assessments. The MCAS is part of our state-wide accountability system designed to ensure that schools are providing all students with high quality and effective educational experiences. The assessment system is also designed to provide valuable information on both school and student performance, information which can and should be used to effectively improve both. There is, however, some opposition to these assessments, opposition which comes from both education professionals and families. While I completely understand and agree with some of the opposition to the assessment system, I would like to make the case for all students’ to participate in the MCAS assessment. 


The first point in support of student participation is the fact that all students are compelled to take these assessment by the state. There is no “opt out” option available. Last month I shared Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester’s communication to districts, where he stated the state’s position on this matter.  Not only is there no “opt out” option, but schools that do not meet the participation threshold for these assessments will be categorized as Level 3 schools. Currently we are designated as a Level 1 school and I would hate for our status to change based upon MCAS participation. There are, however, more important reasons that I believe all students should participate in the assessment system.


The state accountability system has had some positive impact on the educational experience of students, who may have previously been underserved in schools. While a counter argument could be made that advancements in ELA, Math, and Science performance may have come at the expense of other opportunities, one of the most powerful components of the accountability system is its ability to ensure that “all students” make progress and meet the standards, in these academic disciplines. I know we are quite confident that students in the Carlisle Schools are receiving a quality education, but for many students across the Commonwealth, this may not have always been the case. The accountability associated with the MCAS assessment has gone a long way to ensure that members of all subgroups (students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, students of color) are making effective progress, and while we may feel that this has not been a problem here in Carlisle, I can assure you that it has historically been a problem in some communities, and our participation in this state-wide assessment is a small contribution in order to address that inequality.


Additionally, these state-wide assessment provide us with informative data with which we can assess our curriculum and instruction, and assess the progress of each of our students, with the purpose of supporting the positive development of both.


Finally, it is important to note that all students graduating from a public high school in Massachusetts will need to pass the ELA, Math, and Science MCAS administered in 10th grade. While I expect all of our students to be successful on these assessments, there is a benefit to be derived from the testing practice, which is associated with participating in these earlier assessments. This test familiarity goes a long way in diminishing any anxiety, which might exist when these assessments become high stakes in grades 9 and 10. I also believe there is some benefit to be gained from these assessments which could  carry over to other standardized assessments such as the SAT or AP Exams, even though those formats are quite different.


I can honestly say that there are components of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System which I do not agree with, but I did want to share my perspective on why I feel it is necessary and appropriate for all of our students in grades 3-8 to participate in these assessments. I welcome your comments and feedback, and I hope you feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss this further.