Tuesday, December 22, 2009

MCAS Bias? Not Here..

On the cover of this morning's Boston Globe, I couldn't help but notice the above-the-fold picture of a Boston public schoolkid out sledding with her father yesterday. Why was she out there during the middle of the day? Because Boston Public Schools had a snow day. And why did it make me chuckle out loud enough to get some funny looks at Brew'd Awakening, and then inspire this entry?

The image triggered a jarring memory of my days as a student in a Teacher Education Program. Something I entered very naively and for very idealistic reasons turned sour for me when I realized that the program was focused more on indoctrinating graduate students about why straight white men are bad than on actually teaching kids.

Everything was some sort of conspiracy designed to prop some up while keeping the downtrodden down. MCAS, like any other standardized test, was Public Enemy No. 1. Trying to be a bit of an agitator, or at least a potential voice of challenge, I once finally built up the guts to ask them WHY MCAS was so terrible, and why it was so biased -- after all, I said, how can a search for the square root of x discriminate against people based on gender or ethnicity?

The example always cited in response was this: One year, the MCAS required students to answer an essay question about "What would you do on a snow day?" The liberal shibboleth about this was, of course, that the question was geared toward kids in places like Lexington or Dover or Needham -- only they, the argument went, could truly be equipped to answer that question because they must all celebrate snow days by sledding down their gigantic yards and driveways, or having their parents or au pairs shuffle them around for days of leisure. The kids in cities, the argument continued, had no such options and were therefore unable to answer the question.

I didn't really argue back or challenge any of this at the time, but now that I'm a whole seven years older, wiser, and more worldly, I've come to realize the utter BS that was being propagated (mostly, by the way, by middle-age white females from Brookline and Newton).

First of all, kids anywhere can enjoy a snow day. And the irony of the passionate argument on behalf of the downtrodden is that someone who had actual content with actual urban schoolchildren would never say that. Think about all the Lowell public schoolchildren you know, or, if you once were one, think back to your own experience -- Was the idea of a 'snow day' a familiar concept? Don't you think you celebrated just as hard when school was cancelled as did a kid at Lincoln-Sudbury?

Most importantly, the essay is being graded for structure and grammar, not for the kids' choice of activity. So whether a snow day means barreling down your driveway in Lenox, or helping your abuela with the chores in Lawrence, the people reading MCAS are not out to *get* you for anything other than your ability to write and organize thoughts clearly and coherently. The important thing about the prompt is that it's saying school is cancelled, so what will you do? To say that certain types of kids wouldn't be able to understand that sounds a bit, well, racist and classist.

Which brings me full-circle to another view of conspiracy.

If you are in the habit of telling OTHER people's kids that the cards are all so stacked against you that you shouldn't even try, that essay questions about snow days are examples of institutional racism, and that their last name or accent will preclude their hopes of future employment, I'm willing to bet dollars-to-donuts that you don't tell YOUR kids that.

And why wouldn't you?

Well, duh, it's because you want them to have a bright, happy, prosperous future.

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