Tuning in to teens' school reflections

Hardly a day passes without a new twist in the debates over high-stakes testing and other education reforms.

In Massachusetts last week, it was the teachers unions advocating against tying standardized tests to high school graduation. The week before, a furor erupted over the lack of crucial textbooks in some Boston schools.

But within these discussions, we rarely hear the voices of students themselves - the ones whose daily lives will be shaped by the policies at stake.

This week, though, high-schoolers' voices will be added to the mix through a radio project that began as a way to gauge their responses to the exams. Five teen audio diaries are airing on Boston public radio (and the Web) as part of Eye on Education, a community-dialogue effort by WGBH and partners like The Boston Globe (

In one of these "Stories Out of School," a young woman tells what she hopes to accomplish by organizing fellow students in opposition to the new statewide standardized-test requirements. The goal, she explains, is not to get out of taking 17 hours of exams known as MCAS, but to help shape effective education reform.

The series also sheds light on several other issues of concern to high-schoolers, from dysfunctional school bathrooms to the pressures of being an urban black teen who commutes to a suburban school. One student recorded a call he made to a community TV show to ask the school superintendent about enforcement of antiharassment policies in schools.

"Part of the mission is to bring in the kinds of voices we don't hear that much," says Lou Smith, the senior producer for Eye on Education, which includes TV documentaries and a public forum in Boston.

That inclusion is important when high-schoolers are being pressed to aim higher - and realizing that one test could determine whether they graduate. Hearing these voices, it's clear students want to put the school system under equal pressure to achieve, in hopes that it will better meet their needs.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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