Trying to raise my kids the best I can

Friday, June 24, 2005

School and MCAS exams

I am studying up on algebra once again for a college placement test so I can start taking classes towards becoming a nurse. This will be the third time I've taken a math placement test in the past ten years plus all the math classes I took in highschool. For the first time I see how algebra is applicable to real life. Did you know that algebra is applicable in real life? Here is an example:

Four pens and two pencils cost $3.50. Two pens and three pencils cost $2.25 What is the cost of six pens?

Answer: Translate the problem into 4x + 2y = 3.50
2x + 3y = 2.25

To eliminate x you have to multiply the second equation by -2 and combine

4x + 2y = 3.50
-4x - 6y = -4.50

-4y= -1.00


So the pencils cost .25 each and the pens are .75 each.

So that is interesting. And I hate to be all negative about public schools but it is a little irritating to be figuring this out at the age of 26. I wish someone had told me this earlier.

This segways into another subject of my recent interest. As you know, I am putting my sons back in public school next year -3rd grade and kindergarten. So I was calling some friends to find out what the expectations are for my soon to be 3rd grader so I can be sure he is properly prepared. I asked some friends with children in this school system what grade they were taught cursive and I was stunned to find out that they weren't taught cursive. I was horrified. So I took a survey of all the people I know who were taught in the local school system. I found about half of them weren't taught cursive at all and the other half were taught in fourth grade. So the lesson here is that when you send your kids to the public school you are still responsible for their education. Do not just send them off and blindly assume that they are learning all the fundamentals.

Here in Massachusetts there is a standardized test that is required in 4th 8th and 10th grade called the MCAS. You need to pass it to graduate. Schools are rewarded and penalized based on their student's scores. Every year there is renewed debate over the rate of minorities who pass and don't pass. There is also huge debate over whether there should be MCAS exams at all.

My opinion is that I am in favor of standardized testing, but I would test different things than these kids are being tested on. For one thing the test takes far too long. My test would take less then a few hours. Obviously letter formation is not on this test. That is why half of the kids in my city can't write in cursive. It seems to me that, that is a pretty basic skill. And this is coming from someone with messy handwriting, but I still know how to write in cursive. Every kid should know that. And how to print as well. After that, my MCAS would include basic reading, writing, arithmatic skills. The rest is water under the bridge. If you can read and write you can pretty much learn anything else you want.

I saw a documentary about MCAS. It showed a board of people who were deciding what to put into the history portion of the test and what not to. Obviously this was a pretty important decision because it will shape the lessons taught in Massachusetts over the next couple of years. There were advocates for the ancient African Mali civilization and there were advocates for the Armenian Genocide. I was for the genocide one because the Armenian Genocide was the first genocide and a you can learn a lot about the many, many other genocides that followed by studying the first. The Mali Civilization won.

But really the whole history portion of the MCAS is an example of how it oversteps it's bounds of doing good. The main arguments against the MCAS is that the teachers are spending so much time teaching "to the test" that they don't have time to teach important things.

I think this is a very real problem and the solution is to have a test that really focus' in on basic skills. Isn't that the point? To ensure that we are teaching our children all the basic skills? That no child is left behind? If you are only testing basic skills you can set the standards very high. Either you can read/write/add; or you can't. So you have to score high or you don't pass/graduate. Of course you can retake the test as necessary, but there is NO excuse for not passing. None. I have no problems, whatsoever, holding the teachers responsible for the results. Right now, there is way too much fluff on the exam. I can assure you that the "cursive writing" problem is only going to get worse as teachers feel pressured to teach everything on the MCAS exam.

One of my close friends is a highschool English teacher. She's one of the best in the state, I'm sure. She is always bogged down with correcting homework because she makes a point to teach the kids how to write properly. As a result she has hundreds of papers to correct. She says that many of the other teachers just don't bother. It makes their life easier, but the kids are missing out on important skills. Teachers like her need to be rewarded. Teachers who aren't doing their job need to be weeded out.


  • At 3:34 PM, Blogger Bruce said…

    You wish someone had TOLD YOU THIS EARLIER??!!!

    No need to be naive either earlier OR later, but c'est la lie.

    Just in case you didn't get it earlier, everything you learn in school is intended to either be of direct benefit, or to prepare you to learn of something of direct benefit, or to teach you something about the world or ideas that seems important to know, for understanding. Mainly.

    And, just in case, everything you learn in church is meant to be of practical help in getting to heaven, or practical help in living on earth as a Christian, or a warning about dangers that might come, or promises of good things that could come (some definitely, some if we meet the conditions). But very little-to-none of what comes from church or the Bible is meant to be mere religious information. But, like algebra, --all the good parts can slip by us.

  • At 4:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think that ur statement was reasonable but my opinion would be that they stop MCAS, because when a child is taught something in school they remember it but then when a child is taught something new they dont forget about the subject they just learned they just loose interest in it.So ahy should a child at the end of the year or between the year be forced to remember things they have learned and have to put it all down on a paper without any review from the teacher.But like i said, i also agree that maybe teachers are on a tight lead and have to try to fit all that stuff into one year so students know it for MCAS.


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