The Impact of Testing in Michigan

K-12 Testing

by Rich Gibson, Wayne State University


A boycott against the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) has affected entire school districts, especially wealthy districts where, until this year, students had nothing to lose or gain from bothering with the exam (see Examiner, Winter 1998-99). The boycott levels reached 90% in some districts.


This year, the Governor is offering a bribe of up to $3,000 in college assistance to students who pass the exam. This offer may well influence those students who believe they will do well and who intend to attend a state college. It is not yet possible to gauge this year's level of participation, as the release of scores has been delayed for unexplained reasons.


The impact of the MEAP has been, in a word, horrific. In visiting schools all across Michigan, I have witnessed, first hand, some awful sights:


- Teachers have been threatened with dismissal or other sanctions if they did not encourage participation on the MEAP and get higher scores from their students.

- Principals have told me they cheated on the MEAP for fear of discipline against their schools. They urged some students to not come to school the day of the MEAP. They had teachers directly "assist" poor students. They changed answers on exams.


It goes further, to the ridiculous:

- Some districts decided that specific foods drive up scores. Many districts offered special meals to kids on "MEAP day." One district went so far as to decide that bagels were good for liberal arts test-takers, while free sugars, like candy, were good for doing math.

- Other schools held MEAP demonstrations, where the kids not taking the exam were directed to parade about holding up MEAP signs in support of their test-taking comrades.


Sadly, these tests also are deepening the segregation of schools in every imaginable aspect-- from curricula to instruction to feeding and bus schedules. I witnessed schools which designate themselves as whole language centers, inclusive schools uniting kids across lines of age and ability, forced to segregate the kids based on predicted test scores (correlating strongly with race and class) on the exams--because they will finish at different times.


The governor's office denies they have used coercion to promote the MEAP. But the Governor just seized the entire Detroit Public School system, primarily, he says, because test scores are too low. In fact, the pressure to deliver on the MEAP has teachers all over the state working in a coercive environment, and the level of fear is rising. Many teachers with whom I talked asked that I not identify them, so some of the horror stories I heard, I cannot repeat. The Ann Arbor affiliate of NPR recently ran a two part series on the crisis in the Detroit Public Schools. In doing their research, they could not get a practicing rank and file Detroit teacher to talk to them, for fear of reprisals.


-- This article is "winner" of FairTest's "most appalling news" contest for this issue. Share your horror stories with us.