Next month all students in the St. Louis region and throughout the state will be taking the MAP (Missouri Assessment Program), a high stakes test for all children grades three through. High school students take the EOC tests (the end of course assessments). By the end of May of each school year all eligible students from grades three through high school will have taken these state assessments.
I have been looking how schools in our region are preparing their students for this test. At times I am comfortable with such preparation, but at other times I am disheartened. It seems to me that throughout the school year students should be learning the material that is covered on the MAP test. A review of this material and a sample of the MAP assessment should be reviewed by classroom teachers so that the students are familiar with how the test is constructed and comfortable with the test taking process.
But some of the drilling I have seen as well as the time spent in taking comparable assessments over and over in my mind is not conducive to life long learning or in depth understanding. And, in fact, under such circumstances students retain little knowledge and learn nothing except perhaps a few test taking procedures.
As an educator I can understand that knowing how to take tests and respond to questions is very important. Such preparation is valuable and will help students be more successful with all the assessments they will be taking throughout their academic careers and the rest of their lives. But going over and over the same material in preparation for this test may help students pass but will not give them long term understanding nor enable them to apply the knowledge they are supposed to be learning.
High stakes tests are a fact of life. They are given throughout all of our lives, whether applying to schools, applying for jobs or assessing their working careers. Certainly students must know test taking procedures and feel comfortable with these assessments. But it is of little value if students are taught just the sample test taking procedures without the comprehension and application of such knowledge in real life situations. It is very important that schools, when preparing students for such tests, take the time to see that students fully understand the concepts they are reviewing and can apply them in problem solving situations.
All of our students need a solid grounding in the basics in communication arts, math and science. We also know that our country must have an educated constituency to further democracy and democratic values. We are aware of what is happening to those societies that are not democratic and the fight individuals are now undergoing as they struggle for a democratic country. We are lucky. We have that society at this time, but it will take effort and very hard work to maintain it in the future. There are no guarantees. The mantra for all teachers working with children in today’s society is to “ educate your students well so that they can further the democratic values we cherish.”
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Susan Uchitelle is a consultant for the Voluntary Interdistrict Coordinating Council.