Today I had the pleasure of administering the 7th grade math MEAP (Michigan Educational Assessment Program) to my 2nd hour science class. It is the second week of testing, 4th day of testing. We give up about 2.5 hours of instructional time each day that our students are required to take the test. I find it odd that we are testing 6th grade growth in writing, reading and math a month into the 7th grade year. shouldn’t the test be at the end of the 6th grade year? Before our students have 10 weeks off and then comeback and get into a routine of instruction just to be interrupted by testing over 2 weeks. Enough about testing times, I want to focus on today.
Today I walked around the room observing students working on the test. I noticed students answering questions without writing down any calculations in the test booklet. I took a moment to look back at the instructions: “You may underline, circle or write in the booklet but only the answers on the answer document will be corrected.” First off, I don’t like the word MAY in the instructions. I feel it needs to be changed to “You SHOULD”. Why do we give the students permission to choose not to show work, which as an educator I know is a best practice. It will help students see what they are calculating and they may notice a mistake. The other problem is the directions are telling the students that their work doesn’t matter, just the answer. Sure, the government does not want to pay someone to grade written work, but they devalue it before it is even attempted.
As I continued to monitor the class take the assessment, I felt more and more useless as a teacher in the classroom. I saw students making mistakes. I wanted to ask them how they came to their answer. I wanted to help them see their errors and make corrections. I felt helpless, watching students make mistake after mistake. Trained to help students learn from mistakes, I was forced to sit on the sidelines so the educational autopsy could be performed. Result coming in 6 months with very few problems released to aid student instruction.
After the students had finished: some rapidly and some worked diligently to achieve their best. I talked with a few students individually. My first conversation was with a student who finished the suggest 40 minute second part in 15 minute. I asked “How did you do?” His response was “Doesn’t matter, my parents don’t care about the MEAP, glad I am done.” I wanted to say it matters to your school and teachers. I felt the urge to explain that the scores rank schools and can affect funding. But he was right! To him the test has no relevance. It does not affect his grade or standing in school. Why try your best on a test if there is no true benefit. What is the point of the test for him?
The other student I talked to was a girl. She appeared tired and was laying her head down on the desk after the test were collected. I asked her why she was tired. “Well, I did not go to bed until 11 pm last night and had to get up at 4 am to get to school.” Okay 5 hours of sleep would make me tired too. I sure would not be performing my best on a test getting that little sleep. After further inquiry I found out she was with her mom at her mother’s boyfriends house, an hour away from school. Well, that explains the sleep issue. Is it fair for this 12-year-old girl to have to take the test? I don’t know.
I do know we need to create a testing system that is relevant to our students. It need to not be an autopsy but be a tool to mold instructional needs for the students. It also needs to have the flexibility to allow for students to show work and retake if needed. We need a testing system that helps students grow and become better learners. Not one that is used to rank students and bully teachers and schools.