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 center. 

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 learning. 

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 develop. 

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 test scores. 


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