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Back to school: Mastering MEAP not child's play

The Daily Mining Gazette
November 19, 2002

It was the multi-purpose room at Houghton-Portage Elementary School, but it could have been Ms. Williams’ 10th-grade trigonometry class.

Last Thursday, I sat at a cafeteria table staring at my test booklet trying my best to remember enough math to figure how many video rentals it would take to make Plan 2 more economical than Plan 1.

Ryan Olson

Algebra? When was the last time I used enough math to consider it really math?

The Houghton-Portage Township School District, among others throughout the Copper Country and the state, offered adults the opportunity to take some sample questions from the Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests.

Although the 35 people were seated at cafeteria tables, my mind shifted back to the “comfortable” all-in-one desks of elementary school.

Test-taking has changed over the past few years. Imagine having almost all the time you want to complete a section of the test. I remember trying to rush through my algebra to make sure I had time to double-check my answers.

And I remember the teacher making sure that everyone had their No. 2 pencils sharpened and all ready to go.

The questions seem to be more difficult than when I was going through school. Most of the people taking the test agreed that students are being tested on a broader range of skills and knowledge.

During the sample tests, there were no scantron sheets, no teachers reading the directions at each phase of the test. What we looked at was a sample of questions from five fields — math, social studies, science, reading and writing — from the fourth-, fifth-, seventh-, eighth- and 11th-grade tests.

Taking state-required tests were an infrequent part of my K-12 education in Utah, Texas, Colorado, Georgia and California during the 1980s and 90s. Future students in Michigan won’t be so lucky. In 2006, students in each grade will take MEAP tests in each field each year.

Some of the things I experienced taking the test were familiar — the nervous twitch in my stomach even through mentally I knew the test wouldn’t count for anything. I felt pangs of jealousy when someone was able to finish the test and leave before me. I shouldn’t feel too bad — I was taking the test with school board members, Michigan Tech University professors and other community leaders.

One advantage the parents had over their children — the answers were passed out on the way out. Talk about instant gratification. I found out right away that I missed two points out of a possible 36.

Of course, the test can’t recreate what every student has to go through. The schools can’t accurately recreate a week’s worth of testing in just an hour, and most grown-ups played hooky, skipping out on the essay questions.

The sample test also can’t recreate the pressure as some students try to get passing marks to be eligible for $2,500 college scholarship, which is based on test results in high school.

While no test can be a totally accurate measure of a student’s education or ability, the MEAP definitely tests for knowledge that is used in real life. There weren’t any inane word analogies like the type that get mocked on Conan O’Brien’s late-night talk show.

OK, this is the end of the section. Please put your pencils down and wait until the teacher gives instructions on what to do next.

Site © 2004, Ryan Olson
Material from The Daily Mining Gazette © 2001-2004, Ogden News Publishing of Mich.