Rhymes With Fuchsia

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bureaucrap, MCAS Edition

It's that time of year again: fourth through tenth graders in public schools across the state just finished the first round of our version of high-stakes, no-child-left-unstressed testing, fondly known as the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System). The alleged goals of the MCAS are to evaluate schools (a school with too many failing students can lose funding) and end social promotion.

The MCAS doesn't really bother Miss B: she does reasonably well in English and very well in math and science (this year she is being tested in history for the first time), and during MCAS week she has no homework, which of course floats her boat on a sea of bliss. And, although preparing for it takes a certain amount of joy and spontaneity out of the learning process, the MCAS does test for knowledge that a well-educated person should have, and it gives all of us a good idea of Miss B's relative strengths and weaknesses.

Taz is a whole different story. If you gave him a test booklet he would demonstrate a core skill by flinging it as far as possible, so he is tested instead by the so-called alternate MCAS, for which his teacher prepares a "portfolio" of his work. As best I can make out, this is supposed to show what progress he has made in the curriculum on his particular learning curve. The rub lies in the word curriculum. His teacher, aides and therapists (his classroom has five students, one teacher and two aides who are there all the time, and assorted therapists coming and going) work very hard with him and his classmates on things like eating, answering simple social questions (how are you? would you like an apple or a banana?), behaving appropriately in public, identifying basic colors, and sorting simple objects. This last is Taz's vocational training, and he does quite well with it until he gets bored and starts flinging again. None of this, however, is what the state considers to be curriculum, even though all of it is in his education plan (IEP), and we've all signed off on it. Instead his teacher must map whatever she can to the traditional subject areas of English (or, as the state insists on calling it, language arts), math, science and history. If she doesn't use their precise format, forgets to dot a single i or cross a single t, he gets an "incomplete," and she gets a black mark.

I do appreciate that if the state doesn't subject absolutely everyone to MCAS requirements, schools will try to game the system by letting anyone who might flunk it skip it instead. I'm also informed that the alternate MCAS was devised in response to complaints from parents of special-needs students who felt that their kids were being left out of the process. But in Taz's case the whole routine is, to use a highly technical term, silly. Cognitively Taz is two years old and always will be, and we are kept minutely informed of his progress by quarterly reports from the special-ed office as well as by his daily notebook. Having his teacher spend 15 hours (that she is therefore not spending in the classroom) demonstrating his progress in a one-size-fits-all "curriculum" that is entirely unrelated to his educational needs, so that some pencil-pusher can evaluate his portfolio and flunk him anyway, is a vapid exercise in bureaucratic hoop-jumping.

I write some variant of the previous sentence every year in the "parent comment" space of the MCAS acknowledgement I am required to sign. So far the state education commissioner doesn't seem to have taken any notice.

Any bets on what will happen this year?


  • Their motto? "Bringing you to new depths of bureaucratic hell." Seriously, now, folks.

    By Blogger Danielle, at 6:54 AM  

  • MCAS is a ridiculous process. Hannah said years ago that it feels like all they do is teach them to pass the MCAS. There is no learning for the sake of learning anymore. And tell Miss B that when you get to high school and you take MCAS you still get homework.

    By Blogger Carole Knits, at 6:56 AM  

  • Heck, they get homework during MCAS in junior high. Tell Miss B to enjoy it while it lasts.

    By Blogger Ruth, at 8:42 AM  

  • Amen, sister. I've always been opposed to such snapshot testing -- it's simplistic and not particularly relevant to real life experience. Except that of the pencil pushers who inflict it on us. I was part of an educator team who tried to add relevance to Missouri's testing back in the 90's. Our submissions (that there should be writing, and evaluation based on process in math and science) were dismissed as too difficult to quantify. Um. Right. That's why we hire teachers in the first place...and grade kids over an entire semester or even a year. Progress tracking, especially as it relates to complex thinking, is best done IMHO over time. But to trust a teacher and his or her grades to be some kind of benchmark? Too much for the control freaks in the capitol to let loose of. Especially as we are wont to dangle our participles. Even in idiomatic expression. And use fragments.

    Here, you can have your soap box back...

    By Blogger Annie, at 9:28 AM  

  • Well that sucks! As if life isn't hard enough for you, Taz and the teachers, the educational ass-hats need to add their own particular layer of fecal matter to the mix. I am outraged and frustrated on your behalf. I had no idea Taz had to test up to standards. How absurd!

    By Blogger Roxie, at 10:09 AM  

  • Oh I think you should take Taz to the commissioner's office and have him show off his core skills. We have similar tests, and when the whole 'no child left behind' thing was presented to the parent group by some admininstrator (DOCTOR Johnson) years ago, I thought, WTF, how are they going to test Larry (a boy in Nick's class with Down's syndrome) and others that aren't 'mainstream', or even those that are mainstreamed but really are not. Because you know, we canNOT label kids.

    By Blogger knitnzu, at 7:21 PM  

  • I'm sitting at my computer, struggling to find the words to put to the emotional sink-hole which "public education" has become for me. There's no easy answers in education and I wish the states would stop bowing to the federal government for pennies on the dollar in funding.

    Here's hoping you get through this round with as little stress as possible.


    By Blogger Anne Kaelber, at 8:58 PM  

  • What a bunch of maroons. ;-)

    By Anonymous Beth S., at 9:45 AM  

  • I'm with you. My kids are also suffering through MCAS. My son, while in a regular classroom, has an anxiety disorder. MCAS is really not helping but his IEP doesn't allow him to be tested in a different way. So I get to deal with the fall-out each afternoon, trying to convince him that he can't hide under the covers all afternoon, and that I'll love him no matter what and nothing bad will happen to him no matter how he does and no, I would be sad if he died.
    Then I get to do it all over again on the next MCAS day.
    Homeschooling is starting to look good...

    By Anonymous emma, at 12:23 PM  

  • Oy. Seriously.

    By Blogger Will Pillage For Yarn, at 1:19 PM  

  • my 50 year old SIL is cognitively 2 years old as well, although she doesn't fling things.

    anyway, she loves dolls and has her "baby" that she carries around every where she goes. well, apparently, when evaluated a few years back by a state bureaucrat social worker type person, my MIL was told that her doll play was not age appropriate.

    my MIL responded "yes, she should have a job, a family, and paying a mortgage, but she kind of can't."

    so, tell taz to get his act together, and stop fooling around, and hit the books instead of flinging them, will you?!

    By Blogger maryse, at 4:53 PM  

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