The movement to test our children to ensure they received the education they need to function as adults started decades ago. I welcomed this process. My oldest son was one who was being pushed from grade to grade in the interest of keeping the school budget down. I finally was able to get professionals to facilitate an out of district placement for him to meet his educational needs.
Massachusetts was not alone in testing its children. The movement had grown, and testing the children became perceived as testing teacher competencies. But if a child is not learning, who is to blame?
Now that children have sufficiently progressed, testing is being reviewed as possibly unnecessary. I shiver at this.
In the fall of 1997, Massachusetts began running practice versions of its Massachusetts’ Comprehensive Assessment System. MCAS is a standardized test developed under the auspices of the Mass. Board of Education to determine learning levels being achieved in Mass. Public Schools. Areas tested are English language arts, history, and social sciences.
The first official administration of the exam to fourth, eighth and tenth graders took place in May 1998, amid a flurry of controversy. Some teachers welcomed the tests, while most did not. Both students and teachers boycotted schools on test days. Parents kept their children home.
What’s all the controversy about? For the first time in decades, the performance of students will be linked to the performance of their teachers. Twenty-thousand teachers crowded the streets in front of the State House this past summer to protest “teacher bashing.”
Teacher bashing? How can the possibility of a student failing the likes of “Gorton’s of Gloucester” basic skill employment test to the tune of 55 percent be linked to the quality of education?
A May 1998 Boston Globe article quotes Gorton’s as saying, “The basic skills test that Gorton’s of Gloucester gives to job applicants is not supposed to stump anyone who has at least an eighth-grade education.”
They welcomed the MCAS exams, as do other potential employers of the recently graduated. (Of course, some teachers say MCAS only measures a student’s ability to take a test. Who needs a job anyway?)
Schools are no longer small nesting sites where 20 or fewer employees go into huddles over how to deliver the very best in education to a student population numbering a few hundred rather than a few thousand.
Young teachers moved into the system and had close contact with other teachers – experienced teachers who closely mentored them in the educational process. If things weren’t working for a student, teachers had discussions as to how to better serve that one student. Times have changed.
Teachers ran education the way they saw fit for years. If a child responded poorly to school, teachers engaged in “parent bashing.” A common teacher chant is, “I’m not the parent of this child, but parents expect me to be one for this child when s/he’s in school.”
Damn right. Parents should be allowed to believe that their children are in the proximity of, or under the guidance of an adult who can be viewed as an authority figure or substitute parent: a figure who makes the child feel secure and thus able to absorb information given them during the process of learning.
According to the Cambridge International Dictionary online: “Parenting is the raising of children and all the responsibilities and activities that are involved with it.”
How many teachers can deny that taking charge of others’ children for six hours of their 14 or so waking hours, from the age of 6 to 18 does not bring with it components of parenting?
Parents have limited options when it comes to who substitute-parents their children in school. Also, the law mandates that you send your child to school unless you can document some other type of accredited educational process. Who is really being threatened here?
A little more policing of the public school system is not a bad thing. MCAS will provide focus and produce standards for education that cannot be denied. Educational professionals will be made responsible for the same goals a factory worker – or a packer in a fish plant must meet: production. MCAS is more than a dipstick for learning; it is a method of determining accountability.
My youngest son met the early days of first grade with a smile and expectations of learning fun. The first half of that school year put him in the care of a sour woman with a bad leg. It wasn’t long into the year before that smile faded from his 6-year-old face when I herded him into my car to take him to school. The woman took a medical leave. She was replaced by someone as wonderful as she was bad.
The new teacher took hold of the class and pulled it up emotionally and academically. I made the time to go to parent-teacher conference to thank her for her wonderful work with my son, and to express my anger and frustration over his first-half teacher. This new teacher agreed heartily that such a thing should never have happened.
A different teacher (I met a few years later) made it a point to whisper in my ear that the teacher with the bad leg never made it into another classroom. “She retired,” she said. When I asked if she was fired? “No,” the other teacher said, “She was given the option…” Her head moved in a knowing nod.
But the damage had been done to my son that would follow him throughout his academic career.
It’s time to bring our schools back up to standards of which we can be proud. We have good people in the system who want to do their jobs. These teachers don’t fear the MCAS; they view it as a guide to improvement.
These teachers excite their students about the MCAS rather than incite their students to boycott MCAS exams. It’s time to tie performance to salaries so that those teachers who excel have an opportunity to achieve financial success commensurate with their abilities. It’s time to see that the good guys win and that our children win with them.
MCAS results for Massachusetts’ communities can be viewed online at:
If Halloween didn’t scare you, these numbers will.
Copyright 2000 Joyce Bowen
About the Author: Joyce Bowen is a freelance writer and public speaker. Inquiries can be made at email@example.com
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