Friday, April 10, 2009

MCAS passings

The administration of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System's English Language Arts subject matter test (gosh that is a mouthful) went off without a hitch earlier this month. As an English teacher at my high school, I was required to proctor the exam. As a result, I saw one of my classes only once during the week of testing, and a second class only twice. Logistically this proved a bit challenging, but I planned as best I could to ensure students didn't get too far off track.

Administering the test is a bit nerve-racking. There are a number of high-security protocols that must be followed - any missteps, and an entire school's test results could be rendered invalid. Most students take the test seriously, as if they don't pass it, they won't earn a high school diploma regardless of how successful they are in their classes.

It surprised me that in the days leading up to the exam, no announcements were made by administrators urging students to get a good night's sleep or eat a full breakfast. For better or worse, there weren't any proclamations about the test before, during, or after its issuance.

At my wife's school, no other students are allowed into the building during testing times. This policy alone illustrates the significance the test is given there. At my previous school, breakfast sandwiches were purchased for all 10th grade students taking the test. This edible carrot also exemplified the test's importance at that school - which, incidentally, is annually one of the highest scoring schools in the state.

I believe if students read and write regularly, and are taught to think carefully and critically by their English teachers, they will do well on the test. There are certain skills we can teach students that increase their chances of a high score, and specific content we can review to put them in a position to succeed, but beyond that, the X factor is each student's personal level of motivation.

Most are content to do well enough to pass. A driven few want to outshine their classmates, but the majority don't have motivation beyond what is required. It's my theory that breakfast sandwiches, administrative encouragement, and a delayed opening would provide an additional boost beyond what many might expect.

These actions would show students that we really care about their success, enough that we're willing to shut down the rest of the school and provide them with food. If these strategies work at two neighboring schools, I have every reason to believe they would work at mine.

I should mention that our scores are better than the state average, and part of me is glad the administration doesn't make a focus on MCAS the end-all, be-all of academic instruction.

It's worth noting that if the MCAS was administered when I was in high school, I have no doubt that a warm ham, egg, and cheese sandwich on a toasted everything bagel would do wonders for my score!


Kevin said...

My principal tries to downplay MCAS as much as possible, but in the end, his job is being judged by the scores at our school. Like you, too, I think if I can teach critical thinking, good reading and perceptive writing, then my students should do fine on the MCAS. But last year, the scores went down and my principal (the one who stresses our curriculum will not be driven by MCAS) asked, was that an aberration? Well, I surely hope so, but who can say? Only time and data will tell.


Mr. B-G said...

I suppose I wonder what it is that makes the difference between schools with good MCAS scores and great MCAS scores. How much of it is a product of good teaching vs. sufficient motivation? Clearly it's both. My hunch is a little motivation can go a long way.

Your book, by the way, looks great. I'm curious to check it out, as I've used blogs with my students for three years. This is the first year all of my students created their own blogs. If nothing else, they serve as digital portfolios and a means for them to easily share their writing with others. In the best-case scenario, they extend learning outside of the classroom, giving students an opportunity to participate in an authentic, online learning community.

Good stuff!

Brie said...

Standardized testing has always hit a rough chord with me. The state puts so much emphasize on its success yet doesn't do much to ensure that their students' stomachs are rumbling thirty minutes into it. Providing breakfast for students is such a small gesture that could enhance test scores immensely. Someone should tell someone that it isn't necessarily about studying all night long, but about eating a good meal.

Clausewitz said...

Oi, sou o Clausewitz e gostaria de lhe convidar para visitar meu blog e conhecer alguma coisa sobre o Brasil. Abração