Feeling a bit testy

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The year has just begun, and already, teachers are about to have their classes disrupted by the first of many short cycle assessments known as Measure of Academic Progress, or MAP tests.

I’m all in favor of measuring academic progress. When I was in school we did it all the time — we just did it a little differently. Back then, academic progress was measured by letter grades sent home to parents on report cards.
Of course, we did a lot of things differently back then. For example, when we walked five miles barefoot in the snow to school and back — uphill both ways, of course — we used to have to carry big sticks to bat away the pterodactyls.
But that was then, and this is now, and letter grades, we’ve learned, aren’t useful indicators of whether our children are learning, to borrow a turn of speech from George W. Bush.
Lately, everyone’s really getting on board with the MAP testing. It’s so useful for determining exactly what it is our children “doesn’t” know! And now, teachers get to spend hours learning how to interpret the data and poring over the results. That’s time that back in prehistoric days they would have just frittered away grading homework and making lesson plans.
Well, I’m not one to stand in the way of progress, so bring on the MAPs — the more, the merrier. But why are we just testing the students?
According to many elected officials, the problem with our educational system may be our teachers. We pay them a living wage, more or less, and for what? We need to figure out a way to evaluate them, too. In the halls of government, there are many people scurrying to and fro, forming committees, writing lengthy memos and holding endless meetings on the subject.
Not to harp on the good old days, but there used to be a way to screen out the least competent ones right from the start.
First, prospective teachers had to get good enough grades in high school to get into college, and pass the Pre-Professional Skills Test to see if they were competent in the basic skills of reading, writing and mathematics. They had to pass their college classes and spend time in classrooms as student teachers. And finally, they had to take a professional licensure test — like the bar exam for lawyers, only not as hard.
The teacher certification process was supposed to separate the wheat from the chaff, and sure, a few bad seeds made it through sometimes. But now the general consensus seems to be that being licensed to teach is as useless an indicator of whether an instructor will be competent in the classroom as letter grades are of whether students are achieving basic mastery.
If we’ve been wrong all this time about grades, maybe the adults now dispensing knowledge up at the blackboard should never have graduated from high school in the first place. Before we take any further steps, this is something we need to find out.
So here’s how we solve this problem: we make the teachers take the MAPs, too. It’s part of my new initiative for America: No Teacher Left Behind.
In fact, why stop at teachers? Let’s hold everybody to the same standard. Let’s make the administrators take the MAPs, too. While we’re at it, how about we just give the students some good books to read, and let them skip the testing. There are fewer teachers and administrators than there are students so we’re sure to save a lot of money on tests.
Every spring, we can let the kids go play in the sunshine while the grown-ups face the dreaded New Mexico Standards Based Assessments to determine AYP.
If that doesn’t solve the problem, I guess we could ask teachers what they need from us in order to do their jobs. They might have a few ideas about smaller class sizes and having more help so they’re not so outnumbered in the classroom. They might ask for more textbooks, or better ones. And many of them might appreciate not having to raid their Christmas savings accounts for basic classroom supplies and field trips.
We may eventually have to bow to the inevitable and invest more money in schools and teachers if we want better results from our educational system. But first, let’s do some more testing.