African-American students' perceptions of high-stakes testing in Massachusetts: Do urban African-American students see the Massachusetts comprehensive assessment examination as a vehicle for strengthening a separate and unequal class system?
Leonard G. Buckle, Suzann R. Thomas-Buckle
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Department or Academic Unit
College of Arts and Sciences. Law, Policy, and Society Program.
African-American students, MCAS, High-stakes testing
African American high school students--Examinations
Law and Society
While the overarching goal of the No Child Left Behind Act (2001) is to raise the achievement levels of all students, especially those of underperforming racial groups, and to close the achievement gap that parallels race and class distinctions. Given this gap, the secondary school experiences of African-Americans and other students of color in the United States continues to be substantially separate and unequal (Bell, 2004, Darling-Hammon, 2004). High-stakes tests are used to make decisions about which students will be promoted or retained in a grade and which will receive a high school diploma (Heubert, 2000). Massachusetts has developed its own high-stakes test (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam--MCAS) and starting with the class of 2003, students in grade 10 had to meet or exceed the Needs Improvement threshold score of 220 in both English Language Arts and Mathematics in order to graduate from high school. In the future more subjects will be added. This dissertation draws upon a qualitative methodology as informed by the theoretical perspective of critical race theory to analyze the disparities in Black-White educational outcomes and explores the proposition that high-stakes testing is being employed as a vehicle for strengthening a separate and unequal class system for African-American children and may in fact be having negative effects (e.g., stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, etc.) on these students. This proposition was examined through three research questions: 1) How do African-American students perceive the MCAS examination?, 2) How do African-American students perceive the quality of education they receive within the Massachusetts public school system?, and 3) What impact (if any) has the MCAS had on African-American students' educational experiences? The investigator chose a focus group and in-depth interview methodology as the appropriate data gathering strategies. Thirty students participated in three sets of focus groups: (a) students age 18 or older who were unable to pass the MCAS, (b) students between the ages of 15 and 17 who were successful in passing the MCAS, and (c) students between the ages of 13 and 19 who were preparing to take the MCAS exam. Fifteen interviews were conducted with key policy makers. Six themes emerged from the focus groups and the policy makers' interviews as being common to most students' perceptions, albeit the students and policy makers had differing perceptions. The students' themes involved future aspiration, suburban schools are better than urban ones, concern for future livelihood, psychological impact of testing, equity of tests, and participants' recommendations for the future. The policy makers' themes can be categorized as: no positive or negative consequences (of testing), effect of socio-economic status, testing as a graduation requirement, psychological impact of testing, ambivalence toward testing, and apprehension about testing. At the time when the law was implemented, it was perceived that all students had access to the same resources, which this study showed not to be the case. The implications of the study are that the law that was implemented to help students be successful is actually having an adverse impact, and access to quality education is not the same for all students. Implications for law, policy, and society were discussed.
Reginald E. Harge
Harge, Reginald E., "African-American students' perceptions of high-stakes testing in Massachusetts: Do urban African-American students see the Massachusetts comprehensive assessment examination as a vehicle for strengthening a separate and unequal class system?" (2008). Law, Policy, and Society Dissertations. Paper 1. http://hdl.handle.net/2047/d10016739
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