On my trip to the Midwest this past week, I met the superintendents of 86 districts in Michigan who belong to the Tri-County Alliance, which enrolls almost half the children in the state. Every one I spoke to (and I had a private dinner with a dozen leaders of the group) told me of the state’s efforts to destroy public education and to create a free market of schools, where schools compete for “customers” (students). One of the members is already on the Honor Roll as a hero of public education, but as I looked around the room, I saw many potential members, because every one of those superintendents is a fighter for public education.
A reader sent this article written by another superintendent in Michigan, Rod Rock.
For speaking out against the misuse of testing, Rod Rock joins the Honor Roll of heroes of public education.
Stop using the MEAP test
October 18, 2012
Over a period of three weeks each October, tens of thousands of Michigan’s school-aged children sit in their seats for several hours each day taking the MEAP tests. In these three weeks, teachers virtually stop teaching and kids stop learning. Three to five months later, the State of Michigan returns the results to schools and ranks them to determine teacher effectiveness, school effectiveness, principal effectiveness and per-pupil funding levels. All of this information is then reported to the press, and schools that do not achieve a designated level of advancement/achievement receive sanctions.
As a superintendent of schools, I am troubled that a single assessment carries this much weight. I am troubled that such young children are subject to long interruptions in their learning. I am troubled that this assessment is multiple-choice based and inconsistent with the philosophy of learning in our schools.
Even before the first #2 pencil is sharpened, the first test booklet is opened and the first instructions read to students by a teacher, I can tell you the results. I can tell you that the tests do not truly reflect the quality of learning in a school. I can tell you that a test score alone is not a reflection of the quality of the teacher. These tests will verify for us what we already know: Kids who come from middle- to high-income homes will do well on the MEAP. Kids whose parents have a bachelor’s degree or higher will meet achievement targets on the MEAP. Kids whose mothers can read well will demonstrate proficiency on the MEAP.
We already know the results. Why stop student learning and spend tens of millions of dollars to verify what we already know? We are already assessing our students’ learning on a regular basis and we are already providing support for students who struggle. The tests provide no useful information to teachers, largely because it takes three to five months to get the results.
I say we stop the MEAP and use more authentic measures to assess teacher, principal, school and school district effectiveness. I say that communities work across governmental, private and not-for-profit sectors to intervene shortly after conception on behalf of kids. I say that we offer parenting classes, child nutrition classes, and that every child is enrolled in a high quality preschool program. I say that we do not wait until the results of the tests come back or until the state tells schools they have not reached performance targets. I say we do it now in every community across Michigan. A switch from the current remediation/intervention model to a prevention model would prevent the proliferation of factors that largely determine scores on tests, such as poverty and learning disabilities. Eventually, a prevention system will alleviate failure, dropouts, special education and even prison time.
When educational policy one day reflects research instead of politics, our public schools will become authentic reflections of organic learning, and we will no longer need standardized tests to measure students’ knowledge or potential. Instead, the ability to think will emanate authentically from every child we educate.
We won’t be able to turn them off from telling us what they know and how they know it, and test scores will reflect it.
Rod Rock is superintendent of Clarkston Public Schools.