Is the MEAP is Ruining Our School?
Views from an untenured elementary teacher in southeast Michigan.
"Attention, staff. Gordy Bourland is here and we are ready to begin
our meeting." That was the announcement I heard as I was checking in the
office for copies of last year's science MEAP test. I was unsuccessful
in locating the test booklets and begrudgingly headed back to the media
Another MEAP preparation meeting. I have been to countless meetings
at my school, district, and county learning how to help our students do
well on the MEAP. Last week we learned how to "score" writing samples according
to a "MEAP-like" rubric for all grade levels in my school. Today we did
an item-by-item analysis of our science scores. We compared our school
scores with the state average. We examined the questions, vocabulary and
test language-do our kids know what to do when they see LEAST, NOT,
BEST, EXCEPT? Do they know how to "take apart" test questions
so they can write the constructive responses correctly? When do we teach
revolution versus rotation?
So this is what our collaboration half days have come to mean. We fought
hard and won 18 additional half days at our school so that we could meet
as a staff and in teams to bring our school closer to its vision. This
"school of choice" originally intended to be a multi-age, child-centered,
wholistic learning environment. There is a different philosophy here, and
teachers began this school four years ago with the belief was that knowledge
does not need to be segmented for certain age levels or taken out of context,
but that by learning to work together and through making choices about
what and how they learn, students would develop a love for learning, using
curiosity and exploration to expand ideas and learn even more. They claimed
there would be no special MEAP preparation because children who were here
would learn what they needed to be successful within the context of greater
Our collaboration days have now turned to learning how to teach to the
test to raise test scores, with different "experts" explaining what we
need to do. Most teachers agree that this goes against what the school
is about, but none are willing to do anything to support that. They
seem to fall into this pressure system and many have even begun to agree
that we in fact should be teaching test taking strategies. They
have ordered MEAP coach materials in every subject and for grades 3 and
up. They have attended numerous additional workshops about raising MEAP
scores. Our school improvement plan has MEAP scores worked into the framework.
Teachers cannot even attend school-funded conferences unless the subject
addresses a low scoring area.
What has happened? I believe several factors have led to this return
to "traditional" schooling, which is what I sense is happening. Our district
is very small and has a very fragmented curriculum structure in which science
kits are chosen and reading programs chosen to "meet" state objectives
with little thought has been put into integrating or aligning social studies
and science objectives. It is very "fact" oriented. Our math program allows
little room for teacher decision and requires students be divided by grade
level. Although our school has been board approved to do things differently,
we have a principal less willing to protect our differences. Instead of
standing up and saying that what they are asking her to do goes against
what our school is about, she comes back and more rigidly enforces the
new directives than intended. She is afraid. Our staff is burning out.
They fought and worked hard to get the school going and to make their vision
come true, but feel so much resistence and so little support that they
say they just can't do it anymore. Half of the original teachers have left.
Those that remain are tired and afraid. Fear of low test scores and the
reality that we had the lowest scores in the district has led to many feeling
that perhaps students should be taught to test well. But they keep
forgetting that the tests are not yet a measurement of what our school
is meant to be-we are only 4 years old so it is really too early to tell,
plus in those four years, the vision has not yet had an opportunity to
What will happen? I wish I could say I don't know, but I think we will
become just another traditional neighborhood school. We may believe that
learning is more than test scores, but we have done little to convince
those that care about the scores to understand that. We have done little
to build support with our parents. In fact, parents who think learning
should be more than increased tests scores and are willing to garner support
among others in the community have been pushed away. We may believe that
school should be child-centered and meaningful, yet we are imposing the
curriculum upon them with less and less creativity. Fear of the MEAP is
winning, our children are losing.
What have I done? As much as I believe I can at the time. I have questioned
and discussed what teachers are doing and asked them to evaluate what they
believe. Although they agree with me, they won't take a stand with me.
I cannot do so by myself. I am not tenured and have already been told that
I am not to spread anti-MEAP views. That I was wrong in answering a parent's
question about the MEAP regarding what we are asked to do to prepare for
it in the classroom and helping her learn more about standardized testing
in general. I have already been "too verbal" and critical. I am trying
to stir up trouble they say. I keep at it, although I have been much quieter
at staff meetings. Some staff members have even told me that they would
be surprised if I ever would make it to 30 years.
I hope I am wrong about the direction our school is heading. I sincerely
hope we realize our vision and children are taught to learn, not to raise