“Read the questions to yourself as I read them aloud to you,” instructed a deadpan voice from the front of the classroom, while number-two pencils rolled off desks in rhythm to the ticking clock on the wall. The voice returned. “You have 30 minutes to complete this section.”
Sound familiar? It should. With the conclusion of most high school careers comes a host of tests, most of which start like the one just described.
These standardized tests come in many forms, but for Michigan students, the most important are the MEAP and the ACT. The Michigan Education Assessment Program is taken throughout a student’s career in the public school system to measure academic success, and the ACT, a college entrance exam taken also during a student’s junior or senior year of high school. With the latter, the incentive to do well is obvious: if you want to get into college, you have to do well on this exam. The incentives for the former…well, let’s just say they’ve always been lacking.
[granholm] Dr. Mark Conley, professor of education, said elementary and middle school students may still make an effort on these tests for the approval of their parents and teachers. “But as kids get older, they are really ruled by obvious incentives, and there just aren’t any tangible reasons in their eyes to perform well on the MEAP,” Conley said. It wasn’t until recently that a cure for high school students’ apathy came in the form of the Michigan Merit Award. Passed by the state legislature in 1999, the class of 2000 saw the benefits of doing well on the MEAP with the emergence of a $2,500 scholarship for those receiving scores of 1s or 2s on all portions of the exam.
Many MSU students have reaped the benefits of this award. Nevine Sharif, psychology senior, said the Michigan Merit Award acted as an “incentive to do well” on the test, stating she took the test twice to receive a better score and get the scholarship. However, due to state budget cuts, the award has been threatened and the relevance of the MEAP as a determinate of academic success questioned.
In January, Governor Granholm signed a bill to transform the MEAP into a new test, beginning in the 2006-2007 school year, called the Michigan Merit Exam, which will be more like a college entrance exam. Conley said standardized tests structured like the ACT lack the “intimate connection to the Michigan high school curriculum” the MEAP achieves by being structured by educators from across the state. Sharif said taking the two tests was stressful. “Combining the two would make things easier,” she said.
In her State of the State Address, Granholm proposed changes to the current scholarship that would award $4,000 to every student who completes two years of college, instead of the merit award currently in place. Granholm said “we are, in essence, extending the promise of public education in Michigan” and “picking up the tab for tuition.” However, with a state budget in the red, making this dream a reality could be difficult.
In the end, after time is up, the pencils down and the budgets changed, any alterations to standardized testing and financial rewards for successful scores must be done with the intention of encouraging others to attend college. Let’s hope Granholm’s new plan will give younger students the incentive and the funds necessary to come to MSU with a little less worry about debt and a little more time to enjoy being a Spartan.

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