STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

28 kids. 1 big test. 5 teasers about our doc on high-stakes testing, The Big Test

WNY Education Associates

Last fall, one reporter went into one classroom in one school and met twenty-eight kids trying their best to learn.

Despite stereotypes about their school as a "bad school," here are five things reporter Dustin Dwyer learned from, and about, the kids at Congress Elementary Schoolin Grand Rapids. 

1. Dustin spent six weeks with kids at Congress Elementary in the East Hills neighborhood of Grand Rapids. He learned a few dances. He saw some drama. He saw the kids be great classmates to one another. He also watched as teachers prepared them for the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) test. But do the kids really understand why they're being tested? After decades of testing kids, do adults even know what the MEAP is supposed to measure? 

2. Congress' students perform poorly on the MEAP. Only twenty percent of last years' third graders were, according to the MEAP, proficient in reading. Just twenty-three percent of that class was found to be proficient in math. Do bad scores mean Congress is a bad school?

3. But the numbers don't tell the whole story.  Students at Congress did well on another test that's administered three times a year, the MAP. What is MAP and why did Congress students' scores outpace other Grand Rapids Public Schools in growth?

"...there's so much more to our students than the MEAP." - Renee Howard, third grade teacher at Congress Elementary School

4. Congress sits within the boundaries of some of the most affluent parts of Grand Rapids. The city continues to attract microbreweries, coffee roasters, and a young, upwardly mobile population who will probably settle near Congress. But because of rumors about Congress as a "bad building" with bad MEAP scores, they probably wouldn't think of sending their kids to school there. What are parents missing out on when they judge a school solely by test scores and word-of-mouth reviews?

5. You have a chance to respond to the documentary. What's happening with testing in your community? Are you a teacher with an opinion about the changes Common Core guidelines will bring to our state's classrooms? Are you a parent who's neighborhood school has been unfairly stereotyped by poor test scores?

Thursday, from 6:30pm - 8:30pm, come be a part of Michigan Radio's Issues & Ale at Wolverine State Brewing Company. Your host Jennifer White and a panel of experts want to hear what you have to say about the documentary, about our call-in show, and how your lives have been impacted by high-stakes testing. 

Dustin Dwyer is a reporter on the State of Opportunity project, based in Grand Rapids. Previously, he worked as an online journalist for Changing Gears, as a freelance reporter and as Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter. Before he joined Michigan Radio, Dustin interned at NPR's Talk of the Nation, wrote freelance stories for The Jackson Citizen-Patriot and completed a Reporting & Writing Fellowship at the Poynter Institute.