This is an emergency situation!

So said a “spokesperson” for the Michigan Department of Education. I’m not going to identify or quote him because, as usual, is making it so hard for me to find the blasted story online that I have given up. I don’t have all night, fer kee-reist, and I don’t want to enter my zip code, birth year and gender every blasted time I try to go to the NEWS on your site!!!! But seriously. Emergency? I know what an emergency is and this is just not one.

I guess most people are probably talking about Al Gore today (ho hum) but here in The Great Lake State, the big kerfluffle involves the MEAP (Michigan Educational Assessment Program) test. Apparently a newspaper reporter in Jackson published some information about one of the writing topics and now the gods of education are thundering around about making some kids retake the test. I do have a link to the reporter’s blog. I sincerely hope he doesn’t feel compelled — for any reason — to take it down.

Let’s get our priorities straight here.

When Lizard Breath was in 4th grade, she came home from school after a day of MEAP testing with the happy news that she had gotten all of the math questions right. Now, there’s nothing wrong with Liz’s brain but math is not her favorite subject and I was a little surprised at how confident she was that she had achieved such a high level of success on that section of the test. And I knew that the tests had to be sent out for scoring, so how could she already know her score? When I questioned her about it, she said that the teacher had checked her answers. Say what? That stopped me short for about a split-second but it’s been a heckuva long time since I’ve taken a standardized test and I guess I just figured it was okay for the teacher to look at a kid’s answers. Life went on and I pretty much forgot about that conversation. Gonnnnnnng!

A few years later around MEAP test time, I got a call from the dictator principal or the PTO prez or whoever (I was on the PTO board) asking me to come to a meeting at the school that afternoon. It was a hastily arranged meeting, I had no idea what it was about, and I was kind of ticked off because it was Liz’s birthday and I didn’t need anything more to do that day. It turned out that Liz’s old 4th grade teacher had been *caught* helping her students with the test. I don’t remember the gory details but I think there was something about taking the tests home and marking the errors with post-it notes. As you might guess, that veteran teacher was almost immediately bounced out. “Medical leave” was the official story. Roight.

A lot of people were pretty horrified. I think I was probably horrified. Mouse was in 4th grade that year but she was in the other class (whole ‘nother topic). But I also empathized with the teacher. Of course she shouldn’t have been cheating! But why are our teachers under so much stress to produce students who can pass standardized tests? Our public school teachers have a heavy load to bear. Overcrowded classrooms. Kids with “special needs” or whatever it is they’re calling it these days. Goals to meet and constant constant constant assessments to make. No child left behind. All this with dwindling resources. Oh! And if a first-grade student is crying because her mom has to work and dropped her off early to day care and she knows she won’t see her mom again until the end of the world (6 PM for a little kid), you can’t give the kid even a simple, perfuntory hug. “I care about you.” Because you just might get labeled as a child molester. Sheesh! And don’t get me wrong. I know that there are *plenty* of kids who really do have special needs. I just don’t see why so much of the brunt of dealing with those needs has to fall on the schools and the teachers. But people have written books and books and books on all of this so anything I have to add is not new.

The teacher I’m talking about was in the business because she loved to teach, cared about kids, and wanted them to learn. At an age when most teachers are just counting the days, she teamed up with another teacher and created an award-winning experimental multi-age classroom and curriculum that catered to different learning styles. Was she afraid that if the students’ test scores weren’t high enough, her pioneering program would be cut?

Priorities? We have human beings here. Kids who are more or less prepared to learn academic type stuff, maybe a bit weighted toward the “less” end of the spectrum just because kids usually don’t like being cooped up in classrooms for hours on end. A teacher who, after a very long, successful career, makes a really stupid mistake and leaves her job in disgrace, rather than stay a few more years and have a nice retirement party. The students in her class had to deal with losing their teacher and adjust to a new one. And then we have pieces of paper. State bureaucrats who haven’t been in a classroom since the dark ages. Sorry, this stuff makes me mad.

I think what Liz’s teacher did was wrong but I think this whole standardized test thing is being blown out of proportion. Academic integrity is important. As a student, I don’t steal other people’s work. I don’t see the point. If I didn’t work hard and sometimes struggle to do my own work, I wouldn’t learn anything. But, for Kee-reist. The students in question here are 5th and 6th graders! This was an error made by adults. It seems like an innocent one to me. There may be a small handful of kids in the subset of test re-takers who actually read the newspaper and might get an advantage. There are probably a few more whose ever-hovering parents have alerted them to it. But most of these kids are probably as happily clueless as Liz was that day so long ago. Whether or not they know what’s on the test in advance, they’ll write what they want to write. Or they’ll look out the window. Or whatever. People, This is one blasted test. These are 5th and 6th graders. Don’t drag them into this 21st century morass we call “security” or whatever. My daughter is almost 23 now. She’s a successful college graduate. NONE of that has anything to do with her probably inflated perfect score on that 4th grade MEAP math test umpteen million years ago. These are children! Let it go. Let’s move on.

This test crap is not an emergency! What is an emergency is that children and teachers these days are not being given the chance to form their own learning communities without the hands of various government agencies stirring the pot. And it goes without saying that our teachers need more support. Of every type.

If I had my druthers, we’d can most of the standardized testing and give the kids a whole lot more unstructured time for running wild in the great outdoors.

5 Responses to “This is an emergency situation!”

  1. Webmomster Says:

    See article and comments from The Lansing State Journal:

    Half the blame lays on the teacher for openly discussing the *content* of the test within earshot of the reporter; the other half lays on the reporter for actually *divulging* it to the public. Ignorance, maybe. Stupidity, probably.

    Unfortunately, when the ENDS are to maintain or increase funding for education, a lot of Ed. System folks use that as the JUSTIFICATION for the “means”. And it is always the public schools’ students that wind up paying.

  2. kayak woman Says:

    Further random thoughts:

    If the state is so concerned about people discussing the test, then why don’t they make rules about it and *clearly* communicate them to the schools? Doesn’t sound like anyone in the Jackson incident, including the principal, had a clue.

    But what stops the *kids* from discussing the test with other *kids*? Now they’re talking about making everybody take the test on the same day. yada yada yada.

    This is also the *writing* section of the test, which was *always* controversial, some of the big questions involving who would assess the essays and by what standards. Mouse was in one of the first classes subjected to the writing test, in 5th grade, and she did not pass it. Why? In her words, “I couldn’t think of anything to write about.” As anyone who has ever read her blog knows, Mouse is a wonderful writer. But she likes to take her time about writing. It isn’t easy for her to just sit down and blast away about some random topic assigned by a test designer. What *about* kids like that? Are they low achievers? I don’t think so.

  3. Pooh Says:

    Let us, dear children, write about what “We are thankful for.” Are we thankful for No Child Left Untested? Uh sorry, it’s Behind, not Untested? No! Not IMHO!!

    Gack! They are actually going to make all the kids retake the writing test? If they didn’t take writing on the first Monday, (or this week, since it’s now Saturday), can’t they just change the writing prompt for the later testers? Siilly question, of course not, b/c you couldn’t even print it by then, let alone handle all the security.

    I read the reporter’s blog, and the MLive link, and all of the comments posted. Just reading the comments will point out that it is hard to write well under time pressure. OOPS, except that it isn’t a timed procedure, and those were adults writing, not 5th and 6th graders.

    I have been privy to some of the security involved behind the test, and have actually monitored the test-taking. I have seen some of the questions on the MAP test. (MAP is the Missouri version of Michigan’s MEAP.) Some of the questions were awful, and I could not, in good conscience, scold the student who wrote on the side of the question, “this is opinion, not fact!” Then, there was the student who had left some answers blank. Under our training, we were supposed to encourage students to answer every question. The next time I strolled by her desk, she had filled in the answer. When asked to compare two things, she had written, “They are both dumb.” So much for proficiency on that part!

    Another issue is that not only does the whole school district have to show continuing progress, but each school within the district does, and each disaggregrate group within the school. In a small district like ours, where we usually have less than 100 students per grade, that mean one individual student may be responsible for 1.5% of the total for that school. That student could well fall in three sub-groups: Free or Reduced Lunch, special needs, and race. If this one student skipped breakfast, had a cold, or an argument, or didn’t give a rat’s ass about some stupid test, or God forbid, was actually learning challenged, it could drop the school’s score in three separate categories. AARGH! I’m going to stop now, even though the teacher hasn’t called time.

  4. kayak woman Says:

    Gack is right! Thank you Pooh, for bring up some of the issues I was too lazy to look up. We used to spend *hours* at Haisley PTO meetings discussing all that stuff. I can actually remember sitting there thinking that I never wanted to hear the word “disaggregate” again. There just has to be a better way…

  5. Webmomster Says:

    There *has* to be a “Better Way”, but as long as the Politically Minded have their thumbs in the pie, there is no way the Better Way will have a chance of seeing the light of day.

    There is only just so much of “education” that can be “scored” objectively. Anytime something other than a “true/false” question is used, “subjectivity” begins to play a role (multiple choice answers for mathematical questions) as certain “story problems” (not mathematical) can have so many interpretations thrown on them as to vary the ultimate answer. Throw in an “essay portion” to the exam, and NOW what is really being graded? The student’s ability to creatively write a meaningful “intro-body-conclusion” paper within a time limit? As in Mouse’s case, if the student needs *time* to think the proposed theme through, that student is effectively screwed. Another student may be a very slick writer, but may only shine in a superficial sense, never delving into the meat of the subject.

    Does neatness count? What about spelling or grammar or punctuation? The comments I saw to the blog and the newspaper articles show that many *adults* have no idea how to write (and I see that among so-called “educated professionals” at work, too, much to my disappointment).

    Just “how” does one really *teach* how to write? And I mean in the sense of “properly” – spelling, grammar, structure, the whole nine yards… and still be creative.

    Eh. This whole “standardized testing” thing needs to be re-examined and re-built from the foundation up.