(The following is my column for this week's Newton County News)
MAP (Missouri Assessment Program) testing is taking place this week in the Joplin R-8 School District, where I teach eighth grade communication arts at South Middle School.
This is showdown time for school districts across the state as they find out if months of teaching will enable their students to inch up a few percentage points and keep schools from being listed as “failing.”
In most schools, MAP is spread out over several days, and unfortunately, you don’t get much done other than MAP during that time period. We started testing Tuesday, and will eventually test six days, approximately two to three hours each day.
I am not one of those teachers who rail about the absurdity of standardized testing. We do need to have a method to measure what students have learned, although I agree heartily with those who suggest that other methods of measurement be included.
But what does MAP really tell us? I have written for years about problems in Missouri grading of communication arts tests, which include writing samples. During three separate years of testing for eighth grade communication arts that I examined, nearly every school in the Springfield area finished approximately 15 points higher than every school in the Newton and Jasper county areas, something that is virtually impossible.
During those years, the top schools in the Joplin area had between 40 and 50 percent in the top categories, advanced and proficient, while Springfield schools averaged between 55 and 65, with Ash Grove topping out in 2008 at an unbelievable 75 percent.
How could this happen?
These schools are not all using the same methods; their teachers are not all miracle workers, and Springfield-area students are not all Einsteins in blue jeans.
Common sense says it has to be the grading. The grading of tests with writing in them, no matter how hard you try to establish a scoring rubric in which all writers are graded using the same criteria, is subjective, and obviously the people who were grading tests from Newton, Jasper, Barton, and McDonald counties, were grading stricter than those who were scoring tests from Springfield/Greene County and the surrounding area.
I have complained about this for a long time on my blog, and in letters and conversations with education officials and reporters from state newspapers and apparently the griping has paid off. My understanding is the tests will be shipped out of state to be graded. Hopefully, a system will be in place to have all tests graded by the same people and using the same criteria instead of the haphazard way state officials have been doing it.
But even if the tests are graded fairly, Missouri parents, students, and teachers have no way of knowing how the education here compares to that in other states. Each state sets its own grading system, with no two being alike This is permitted under No Child Left Behind, and many states have been gaming the system by making their tests easier so it makes it look like more of the children are meeting NCLB standards.
Missouri, according to impartial groups that have examined standardized tests from all 50 states, offers some of the toughest exams in the U. S.
Good for us. If you do not hold students to high standards, you are not going to receive quality work. Unfortunately, those same tough standards have made it look like a higher percentage of some states’ students are passing, while Missouri is lagging behind.
That will give critics fresh opportunities to moan and groan about the failures of public education, and push more and more school districts into devoting more and more time to teaching to the test rather than imparting the knowledge that will help insure to that no child is left behind.