Thursday, April 2, 2015

M-STEP (A Teacher's Point of View)

I’m a school teacher in Michigan. We’re about to embark upon the M-STEP, which replaces the MEAP test. The state of Michigan, like most states, has determined what all of our core standards must be, and then in its supposed wisdom, our state ascertained that it could write a test which proves once and for all whether or not our students, teachers, and schools are succeeding. I won’t go into any of the year-long mysteries about this assessment or technological issues involved in the taking of this tool. I won’t even go into the scheduling issues or stress factors or the fact that students are being exposed to the test for the first time and teachers only recently finding out what “might” be on it and what it’ll look like. It’s all for the good of education according to the legislators. School districts, teachers, and students will be judged by it. Students will learn if they’re proficient or not in a set of core standards that legislators decided would be best. But that is not what I’m writing about, lest you think I’m being negative. I’m writing about those students in my classroom who don’t care about the thing—and how much it bothers me.

Believe me, I hear the complaints and concerns of students, parents, and teachers alike, but my response is that it doesn’t matter. It’s a test. It’s required. It’s what we’re told to do, so we should do it. Maybe it’s fair and maybe it’s not, but why does that matter? Maybe it’s a bad test and maybe it’s not, but how should that affect people’s attitudes? One of my favorite quotes is “Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.” There’s no way to prove that quote to be true, but what it’s saying is…improve your attitude and do what you have to do. Make the most of life’s circumstances. Stop whining, complaining, moaning, and groaning. Do your best with what life gives you. And what the public schools happen to be giving us right now are core standards and standardized tests. So we need to do them.

I have a lot of pet peeves in this world. Most have to do with grammar. Some have to do with people with bad attitudes. If the government told 16-year-olds that they had to log 200 hours of drive time before they could get their licenses, they’d all drive 200 hours because it’s important to them. If in order to go to the prom, they had to wear a tie or a dress, they’d wear a tie or a dress. If the sports coach said that everyone had to wear warm-up jerseys for pre-game warm-ups, they’d all wear the jerseys whether they wanted to or not. If a parent said to a child, “You can’t have dessert until you eat your vegetables,” the child would eat his vegetables. If a publisher said, “I’ll only publish this book if you cut 30,000 words from it,” the writer would swallow his or her pride and find 30,000 superfluous words to cut. If the county sent a letter requiring a citizen to show up for jury duty, the person would make arrangements to be there.

I could think of 100,000 examples of how life is. Do what your boss says. Play by the rules. Obey your parents. Abide by the country’s laws. We are always being told what to do. You know, I hate paying my property taxes, but I kind of like my house and where I live, so I pay them. I don’t like getting penalized when I make late loan payments, so I make them before someone else’s arbitrary cut-off date. I don’t like that I can’t drive 80 plus on the expressway. It would save time to drive over 80, wouldn’t it? I wish I didn’t have to be a certain age to get a full retirement or draw social security. I don’t like it when my exit is closed and I have to make a detour. I truly wish my grass didn’t grow continuously so I have to keep cutting it. But life is what it is, so I do life. It doesn’t matter if I like it, if it’s fair, or if it’s stupid. It doesn’t matter if it seems like a waste of time, if I think the person who told me to do it is an idiot, or if it’s not what I want to do. My life is filled with me being expected to do things I don’t like or want to do.

There are some rewarding things about my job and some things that are a pain in my behind, but it’s my job to do them all. And students…it’s your job to take the standardized test whether you like it or not. Which leads me to the real reason I’m ranting. I’ve established life is packed full of inconveniences and things we don’t like or don’t want to do. I’ve established that those things don’t matter too awfully much. We just do them. And I’ve established that our attitudes need to be better. So here I am with this incredibly profound statement. Since you have to take the test, you should do your best! We’re taking time in our classrooms to give the kids a little insight into what to expect from this brand new M-STEP test, so shouldn’t they be listening? Shouldn’t they be practicing? Shouldn’t they be planning on doing A, B, and C so they do their very best? Here’s the big question. Shouldn’t they care? If my coach told me I had one minute to make as many layups as I could, I’d try to make them all. If I knew I was playing a solo at a recital, I’d practice. And while I was playing, I’d try not to make a mistake. If I had a part in a play, I’d learn my lines so I could be proud of my performance. If I was white-water rafting and heading to a class five rapid and my guide told me to paddle as hard as I could or I might die, I’d paddle exactly like I didn’t want to die. If I had a special date, I’d plan and prepare so I’d make a good impression. If I was taking an on-line IQ test, I’d darn well try to get every single one right because I want to know how smart I am. You see, I’d do my best. I’d pay attention to M-STEP hints. I’d do the practices. I’d go to bed early and eat breakfast and bring a bottle of water on test day. I’d read the wordy directions. If it said to write and give evidence, I’d give three or four pieces instead of one or two. If my teacher showed me what the directions are going to be like or introduced me to the on-line tools, I’d pay attention and practice them with the class.

And when the test day came, I’d try to get them all right. All of them. Every one of them. I’d care. It wouldn’t matter how I felt about the thing. It’s the test. It’s how the state of Michigan says I’m going to be evaluated. It’s how my teachers are being evaluated. It’s how my school district is being evaluated. It doesn’t matter if I like it, agree with it, want to do it, or think it’s fair. It’s the evaluation I’ve been told to take, so I’ll take it, and I’ll do my best. I’m so sick of the whining and complaints. I’m tired of the apathy and laziness. I’m exhausted trying to help so many students who don’t care. People need to care. People need to do their best. People need to conform to the test like they conform to nearly everything else in their lives and suck it up and do the best they can. I don’t like being told what to do any more than the next person, and I have opinions just like the next guy. But I have a philosophy that says when I’m put to the test, I try to do my very best.

All students need to care. The test is coming whether they like it or not. It evaluates them. They shouldn’t want to find out they’re not proficient. They shouldn’t want a bad score in their student file if they do poorly. They shouldn’t want to let their parents—or themselves—down. We all know there are flaws in the system. There will almost certainly be flaws in this new test. Philosophically, and in any and every other way, you may hate standardized testing and M-STEP. But so what? Care anyway about how you do. Do your best anyway. Prepare…take it seriously…listen…practice…follow the directions. Go above and beyond. Do the best you can because this is exactly how life is. We do what we’re told sometimes even when we don’t like it or when we think it’s stupid. It doesn’t matter when it comes to this test. We do what we have to because that is exactly how life always is.