Express-News Staff Writer
Mia Kang stared at the test sheet on her desk.
It only was practice. Teachers call it a "field test" to give them an idea of how students will perform on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.
But instead of filling in the bubbles and making her teacher happy, Mia, a freshman at MacArthur High School, used her answer sheet to write an essay that challenged standardized testing and using test scores to judge children and rank schools.
"I wrote about how standardized tests are hurting and not helping schools and kids," said Mia, who looks and acts older than her 14 years. "I just couldn't participate in something that I'm completely opposed to."
Mia isn't boycotting just the practice tests. The straight-A student said she'll refuse to take the state- and federally-mandated tests Texas teachers begin administrating next week.
The decision isn't a popular one. When Mia refused to take the practice test, two school guidance counselors came to the classroom to try to change her mind.
"They warned me that it would be a black mark on my record and that I should choose my battles wisely," Mia said.
Mia is the latest in a growing number of students nationwide who are showing their opposition to high-stakes testing by putting down their pencils.
These young people say the "drill and kill" mentality of test preparation is destroying their thirst for knowledge and creating a generation of students who are missing crucial lessons in critical thinking, creativity and discovery.
Frustration also grips teachers, but at least in Texas, it's students who are making their voices heard.
Part of the reason frustration "grips" teachers is that NCLB has punishments embedded within that whip schools for not having at least 95% of their students TAKE the test, leading toward that ominous label of being one of the growing number of "failing" schools. Essentially, that means the law pits student-advocates (teachers AND parents) against the schools themselves.
Texas has been gauging student progress with high-stakes standardized tests for the past decade. The state's accountability program, which ranks schools based on student progress, became the blueprint for President Bush's sweeping education reform law, labeled No Child Left Behind.
...that blueprint, by the way, was based largely on the so-called Texas Miracle, which has been extensively debunked.
Under the federal mandate, schools must show progress in the overall student population, as well as in subgroups based on race, ethnicity, disability and economic status. The stakes are high, with some schools standing to lose students, money and autonomy if they fail to meet federal standards because too few students pass the tests.
Too may already have.
There is risk for individual students, too. In Texas, third- and fifth-graders must pass the test to be promoted to the next grade, and high school students must pass all four sections of the test -- English, math, social studies and science -- to earn a diploma, regardless of what their report card says.
So what does this mean for our intrepid heroine, Mia Kang, I wonder?
You can find the rest here.
It's important to know that this is not anti-testing at work here. As the superintendent in the article states, "There is a real punitive flavor to all of this. If you're testing to be diagnostic, to identify weaknesses and work on them, that's one thing. But all we hear about is dropping the hammer on schools."
The superintendent also states, "In both cases, it's not a matter of whether these students could pass or not. They're very, very capable students. I just hope they don't restrict opportunities in the future by doing this." Ironically, that is exactly the impact high-stakes testing has on students and on schools, in general.
As Mia, the very wise, says:
Test preparation dominates classes, Mia says, squeezing out time for meaningful discussion or creative projects.
"These tests don't measure what kids really need to know, they measure what's easy to measure," she said. "We should be learning concepts and skills, not just memorizing. It's sad for kids and it's sad for teachers, too.
We should support this courageous student. She's risking a lot more than most of us are willing to and she's one little ninth-grader!
Mia doesn't plan to take the TAKS test ever. Like Kimberly, she doesn't intend to participate even though it means her diploma is on the line. Both girls have stellar academic records and hope colleges see beyond one test.
"If my high school diploma means I passed one test in the 11th grade, then that's pretty meaningless," Mia said.
Does this mean Mia will never graduate?
It's a shame that more teachers don't or feel they can't act on what they know is a flawed and dangerous movement toward destroying public education in the eyes of the very public it serves.
It's a shame that most parents won't look beyond the Orwellian tag of the law's title.
And it's simply a crime that there are lawmakers who had their hand in this knowing FULL WELL what was to come. But their children are most likely tucked safely away at some private school while the rest of those who are less fortunate to have such resources on their side, are left behind in schools tagged as "failing" regardless of the exceptional staff and the extraordinary effort being made on their part (much of it, subversive!).
In reference to this news, a colleague of mine quoted Charles Beard, a 20th Century American historian, who, when asked to name the lessons of history, ended with "When it is dark
enough, you can see the stars."
These are dark times, and Mia Kang is a bright star.
Here's what you can do to support Mia and those who stand with her (i.e., those noted in the article):
Write to Mia Kang at her school:
MacArthur High School
2923 E Bitters Rd.
San Antonio, TX 78217
Write a letter to the editor of the San Antonio Express-News:
P.O. Box 2171
San Antonio, TX 78297-2171
Or fax to: (210) 250-3465 Include your daytime phone number for verification purposes only.
Email her principals, her teachers, the superintendent in support of Mia.
You can find all those connection on the school website:
Education is a civil rights issue.
Mia Kang is a hero in this movement.
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