Making MASSI Work

January 14, 1994

So much upheaval has enveloped Columbia's Wilde Lake High School that one of the school system's major attempts to improve the test scores of African-American students is in danger of crashing before it can take full flight.

School officials say the five-month-old MASSI program -- an acronym for Motivation, Assessment, Support, Structure, Instruction -- is facing a tough challenge from teachers at Wilde Lake, one of several schools (but the only high school) where the program is being piloted. Many teachers are said to be resisting the effort in favor of "their own model."

This renegade movement has forced top administrators to step back and reassess how quickly the program can be instituted, particularly while they must deal with a host of other concerns about the school. The picture painted by officials varies from one of a happy staff that merely wants to make a few adjustments, to a deeply recalcitrant group that is unwilling to embrace new ideas.

This situation has surfaced during a time of great upheaval at Wilde Lake High. It may well be contributing to the problems with MASSI. The school has been the target of some criticism because of relatively low scores on standardized tests. It is also about to undergo an almost total renovation, during which students will be moved to another facility. In addition, officials are looking at the possibility of doing away with Wilde Lake's current grading system, which is built on the concept that students never fail and are given numerous opportunities to improve their performance.

All of this has left staff members beleaguered and somewhat fractious. And while Superintendent Michael Hickey says he is committed to doing all he can to make MASSI work, others feel the odds are not in his favor.

Some critics contend that part of the problem at Wilde Lake is that many teachers have worked there too long and are entrenched and unwilling to accept new challenges.

The fate of MASSI may not be known for months or even years. But it is a major thrust of the system, aimed at expanding the techniques teachers can use to improve student performance, particularly that of African-Americans. If the program fails, it would be tragic -- especially if for a lack of willingness or energy to make it work.

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