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History exam would only create illusion of accountability

If Massachusetts students don’t understand history, another high-stakes test won’t help (“Don’t know much about history”). The focus on our current math and reading exams is a big reason why many schools downplay history.

Decades of research, summed up by the National Academy of Sciences in 2011, found that exit exams narrow curriculum and depress graduation rates. They do not increase college or career readiness. A required history exam would create an illusion of accountability, not improve educational quality.

An earlier pilot version of the MCAS history test covered obscure, insignificant information. Such an exam encourages Trivial Pursuit-style memorization. It will not lead to the deeper grasp of history and government that graduates need to be effective citizens. Rather than add more costly and useless standardized exams, Massachusetts should scrap its current graduation tests. The money saved should be invested in our many underfunded schools.


Monty Neill

Executive director, FairTest

Jamaica Plain