Looking For Answers: 
My Night at the MEAP Debate

By Julie Hartman 

“Benton Harbor has terrible schools because of poor educational leadership. That district can exist like that because it has nothing but third and fourth generation welfare mothers. One kid asked me, “why should I get an education?’ They’re too used to being given everything.Just like Indians on reservations.” 

These are the words of Jim Sandy, the Chamber of Commerce mouthpiece for the MEAP test, spoken after a public debate in Flint on February 15, 2001. I attended and was disappointed.The only information supplied is what is available on their web site. I had many questions about the MEAP; it is the subject of my research paper. I stayed to talk because a live person could not refer me to the website without an answer, unlike those who answered my calls to Lansing. Although none of my questions were answered, the above comment told me plenty about what is in the minds of the MEAP backers. 

I believed the debate would answer my questions. It actually raised more so I stayed to ask them. I walked up to Mr. Sandy, who virtually ignored me. I had to interrupt him to be acknowledged. During his part of the public presentation he said the state has done a poor job of communicating to teachers what their expectations are concerning the MEAP.So I asked what the state is doing about it now that the MEAP is a high stakes test.He said they must be doing something. I pressed him for the name of the plan and the name of who was in charge of its implementation. I received no answer. He resumed his conversation with another; I was definitely being ignored now. When the subject turned to abstract thinking in children, I asked him “Is the MEAP test reviewed by educational or developmental psychologists to assure the questions are developmentally appropriate for each age group given the test?” In lieu of an answer I was met with a stare. The conversation then turned to the issue of unequal funding.He replied with a spiel about the schools in Texas, adding that less money is spent per pupil than in Michigan andemphasizingteachers are paid less too (read as Michigan’s teachers are overpaid).He referred to visiting a Texas school with staff members from Ecorse. I asked,“If the Texas system is so good why isn’t the State bringing those experts here to Michigan’s “failing” schools for training?”Again silence, this time I changed the subject. 

I started to discuss the proper uses of an assessment test. He stated good teachers use the MEAP scores from one year to plan for the next.I agreed it was a proper use for the MEAP but had another question. If a good teacher follows through when does the state test again to measure the improvement and let the public know of it?” Again I was given a stare as a response. I went on to ask him why the State of Michigan does not inform the public of the limits of what can be ascertained by the MEAP test and why they do not release that information to the public when it releases the annual scores.Again, no direct response. The conversation changed again and the young teacher we spoke with had views she wanted heard. 

The quoted comment at the begining of the story was made during our discussion of the sad state of the school buildings throughout Michigan.When I heard the comment I told Mr. Sandy that I was offended (I have relatives on reservations) and he tried to backpedal.I asked for witnesses for verification of what I heard. I had three. Through my numbness, I heard Mr. Sandy claim his basis for expertise in matters pertaining to Benton Harbor’s inhabitants: his wife lived in the area at one time.By the same token I surmise his expertise on Native Americans accumulated from being the president of the Chamber of Commerce in Mt. Pleasant. Believe it or not, even after being so poorly treated I wanted to stay longer to further question this man, but I had to leave. Perhaps I had heard enough. 

The two men supporting Michigan’s standardized test, the MEAP, never answered a single question I had concerning the MEAP test. They did not address or even acknowledge the concerns or experiences of the educators asked to debate them.When asked to cite evidence or a study that proves the MEAP test is improving education in Michigan, one was so arrogant he said they didn’t need one. I left the debate full of anger, and not only because I was victimized by an ignorant remark. I resent the State of Michigan’s Department of Education claims that educators need to be held accountable while those in the MEAP office collect handsome salaries to continue an expensive testing program without having to prove its worth. The very least the state could do is acknowledge the limitations and negative effects of the MEAP, and make sure it is used in the proper manner. I challenge the state to remove ignorant business executives with no experience dealing with or educating children, and hire some real experts. They do exist, but the powers that be must look beyond their own political cronies to hire them.Finally, I challenge the men from the Flint debate and their cohorts to really put children first. May I suggest their first step be to stop their parasitic feeding from the public trough created for them by the MEAP. The money could be better spent elsewhere.


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