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Teaching skills rather than content? The proposed MEAP test says you’re wasting your time

"15/52 'haywire'" by Porsche Brosseau on Flickr

If you’re an educator, you’re well aware of the necessity—or so we’re being told—that our curriculum focuses on teaching skills rather than content. The logic seems simple: teach students to think rather than just have them study and regurgitate facts that can be found by doing a simple Google search, and you’ve created a lifelong learner.

So then what the hell is up with the new MEAP test?

At least, that’s what John Bagin, a social studies teacher at Tri County High School in Howard City, Michigan, is wondering after his class was asked to take the proposed US and world history MEAP test–a test that is receiving a renewed push from state lawmakers, as opposed to the Smarter Balanced Assessment which has the support of many educators and State Superintendent Mike Flanagan.

Once his students began taking the MEAP, Bagin quickly realized that those skills he had been helping his students develop were all for naught. “I looked over their shoulders, and I became aware after the first several questions that this beast is content,” he said. Bagin’s ire quickly rose as he recalled how administrators have asked him to change his curriculum. “For the past several years we’ve been told that we’re moving away from content and developing thinking skills,” Bagin said. “I was told ‘we do not need factual crap.’ The test–if that’s indeed what I’m being judged on–is factual crap.”

Needless to say, the students struggled on the test. “They would need incredibly good memory in order to be successful,” Bagin said. “They would need a lot of instruction in a huge array of historical topics from world history covering hundreds of years, covering the entire globe. They would need all of that in a span of less than a year.”

But that isn’t Bagin’s only concern. He’s worried that there is little possibility that all of the content could even be taught before the test is given in its traditional March time frame. “This had stuff that covered the affordable care act,” Bagin said. “You have to either give US history to sophomores or have your curriculum wrapped up in March, and then I don’t know what the hell you do for the rest of March, April, and May.”

In his 15 years as a teacher, Bagin has resigned himself to the fact that it’s nearly impossible to prepare students for standardized tests like the MEAP. “These tests have always been content driven, and as a teacher it’s always been a dartboard of guessing what to teach,” he said. “Because the realm (of social studies) is so big, what would you leave out? If I leave stuff out and it’s on the test, I’m screwed.”

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