Boycott the MEAP
by Rich Gibson
Michigan Citizen March 31 2000

For the past several years, students throughout Michigan have been urged to take the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) exams. The tests, now given in grades 4, 5, 7, 8 and 11 in many school systems, take up about 40% of teacher time. The MEAP tests did not rise up out of the mists. They have a history-and a big impact. 

The MEAP tests are a hyper-extension of exams which have been given in Michigan for decades, formerly called the High School Proficiency Tests and similar names. Most public school kids in Michigan took the SAT, the HSPT, and some other exams like the Iowa tests. However, the MEAP is something qualitatively different.

The MEAP is a high-stakes exam. That means that student performance on the test can influence matters ranging from property values to teacher pay and jobs to student promotion in some areas. Now the state is offering bribes to students to encourage them to take and pass the MEAP. The stakes that are attached to the MEAP form the basis of a big problem.

The MEAP is a racist test, measuring mostly parental income. It has little or nothing to do with the real abilities or interests of children or teachers. The test is based on a very particular standpoint. Indeed, the social studies test, for example, was written using the template for the curriculum in West Bloomfield. So, today, it is easy to predict MEAP scores: just get a zip-code break-out which shows household incomes of a given area and you have a good predictor of MEAP scores. This is so widely known, there is really no reason to try to prove it anymore. The scores are on the DOE web-site. 

The MEAP test gauges background, language, attitudes, and experiences using as a base line wealthy white suburbs. The more wealthy and white a student is, the better he or she is likely to score. 

The MEAP is built on a scaffold of lies. First, when the curricular standards (which are only a skeleton for the test) were being written, state Department of Education (DOE) officials swore that the standards would never be enforced and would never be attached to a standardized exam. They when the exam was being written, they swore that neither money nor high-stakes would ever be linked to the test in any way and no student would be punished for poor performance. They said the scores would be useful, would make sense. The MEAP was scored for years by temps in the Carolinas, who came up with scores so bizarre they were finally replaced. 

DOE officials said the test was going to be used to assist poor districts and students whose teachers needed some help. They promised the test would not be used to compare districts, or even to compare schools within the same district, that the exams would only be an identification tool for assistance. When the public would no longer believe the lies being told to them from the DOE, the test and the standardized curricula were moved under the control of the Treasury Department, where they are today-all pretense of a connection with education gone. 

When the tests came out in mathematics, literacy, and social studies; it became clear that the DOE planned to attach a great deal of meaning to the scores. They immediately began to publish district and school comparisons on-line. Real estate agents began to use the exams to churn the housing market. 

At the same time, students and parents realized that the test was not designed to help them. In fact, in most cases, it could only hurt them. For example, early on many very good students failed the test, and their rank, "failed the MEAP," was pasted on their graduation diplomas. Since no university in the country pays any attention to MEAP scores, having the possibility of a "failed the MEAP" stamp on a diploma was undesirable. In addition, many students in poor districts realized that the exam was rigged. In both cases, students began to boycott the MEAP, led by students at both ends of the spectrum of wealth, in rich districts like Birmingham where over 90% of the kids refused to take the test, to Detroit, where some schools also had high boycott rates. 

This is why Governor Engler offered a $3,000 payment to anyone who passes the MEAP. The payment is a bribe to the suburbs. It offers suburbanites the money simply to take the exam, because for most of them to take it is to pass it. This bribe was imperative because the Governor was being ridiculed for the failure of the MEAP in every area, as an educational tool and as a whip against students and teachers. There was no way to punish people for not taking it, so he came up with the bribe. The bribe just deepens educational inequality, already plenty deep. 

No one should take the bribe, no one should take the MEAP. Students have a right to opt out of the test. In coming issues we will describe (a) why the MEAP is being given now and the impact of the test on students and teachers (b) the impact of the test on school districts and communities (c) how to fight the tests and educational standardization while at the same time creating vital communities where people can learn and make gains. 
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