Michael Peterson

I was at a school the other day observing a reading group in an elementary school. A 3rd grader who I will call Paul talked excitedly about the test that is coming up. He had heard about the big party¹ that the school district throws for kids who pass the test. "Yes," said the teacher, "If you pass the MEAP they have a huge celebration and your name is called and written in the paper." He beamed with excitement about the prospect of the party and the recognition.

At another school I talked with a teacher about a similar kid. "We are going to recommend to his mother that she exempt him from the MEAP," she explained. "I don¹t think he will pass it and he will be crushed if he doesn¹t. He does not need something else telling him that he¹s no good."

At yet another school, I talked with an administrator. She described how she sees a flurry of referrals to special education a month or so before "MEAP time". She's talked with other administrators who are trying to get students labeled as special education so "they don't have to take the MEAP". Of course, federal law now doesn¹t allow for the wholesale exclusion of some

students though many caring teachers try to help shelter their kids. Everyone knows the administrative routine: don't let special education kids take the test so that our test scores won¹t go down. While the latest version of the special education law was, in fact, intended to prohibit this from happening, according to this administrator, the law requires that the test be given to special education students, not that their scores are reported.

I met with a colleague with a respected community activist in Detroit. We talked about the crisis of the Detroit Public Schools and the needs for people to see alternatives to the worksheet driven, oppressive schooling that is too typical. As we talked about the problems caused by the MEAP in taking time away from real learning, she said that the "last thing we should ask of parents is to boycott the MEAP". I was surprised. "Why?" I asked. "Because these parents see that they have two choices. Either their children pass the MEAP or they will go to prison."

As an educator particularly concerned about kids with special needs, the stories have rolled around in my mind reverberating many themes. Our first child, so excited about the party if he passed the MEAP and the concern of the impact on the second child's self-esteem. Yet, both are bad choices. Students know when they are excluded and they know why. Yet what happens to those students who do not pass the MEAP in a district where the party is for those who did? What happens to the kid who goes home not taking the test because he knows people figure he won't pass it. Do we think that kids- special and otherwise do not see the flurry of activity about getting the scores up and do we think that they do not know that scores are more important than they are? And the most powerful irony is that parents themselves, particularly parents whose resources are fewer, who deserve our support rather than our oppression, believe they have the choice of the MEAP or prison?

The fundamental philosophy of good schooling is that we help children become the best of who they can be. To do that, we provide engaging experiences, we build a community of care and concern around them, we help them experiment, support their excitement about engaging the world. We build schools where kids with all sorts of different abilities can learn together.

Parents of students with special needs cross over typical boundaries of race and class. Over time, parents of these students have been powerful forces in shaping special services in schools for their children. However, in an age in which "inclusion" is much discussed, few in the special education

community have confronted the problems of standardized testing for their special students. Special kids know about tests. Tests gave them their labels of "mentally retarded", "learning disabilities", and on. And tests like the MEAP continue to haunt them, designed as they are to separate those on top from those on the bottom. On "MEAP DAY" let¹s pay attention to the10% of our schools population, the "special kids", and let¹s see what happens to them on that day. As it is time for parents to insist on inclusion of their students in schools, so it is time for parents, and others concerned with special kids¹, to insist that schools spend their time and resources on real learning and end this practice of testing that dominates the curriculum and is often yet another tool of humiliation for our children.

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