What is working well in my classroom? A Creative Summative Assessment on Meek Mill
Multiple choice benchmark questions do not always work well to assess my students knowledge. My Black History class is made up of almost all Black students. Neither does standardized testing always accurately capture my students understandings and skill levels. Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe there SHOULD always be a way of gathering data for tracking student growth, and identifying specific skills and content knowledge that needs reteaching. Most current assessments however are created using the same institutional structures that oppress Black academic performance, and they definitely do not work in my class, a class that focuses on Black joy and liberation.
I think it’s important for history educators to also teach and assess students on subjects that students care about. In the summative assessment I created, students write two paragraphs about a more recent issue of race and describe a strategy to confront ongoing institutional racism. These mini units are usually enjoyed by almost all of my students, and provide a means for them to write successfully in history. Moreover, no matter the history topic they are writing about, I use the same criteria to evaluate my students, and I track their performance throughout the school year to provide evidence of student growth.
My first unit in African American History is this one I designed on Meek Mill. For my students in West Philadelphia he is a local hero. Many of them have even described “Dreams and Nightmares” as Philly’s anthem. Even if he is not a student’s favorite rapper, he is well respected and admired. This is where I also have to differ with a recent #FreedomFriday podcast titled “Who Stole the Soul of Hip Hop?”
Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares,” “Wins and Losses,” and “Championships” albums are all heartfelt and socially conscious sharing of Meek’s experience with the criminal justice system. In “Trauma,” a favorite song of my students, he raps “how many times you send me to jail to know that I won’t fail?”
Given Meek’s experience with the criminal justice system, his trauma and apoplexy was a significant catalyst of Black resistance and resilience that students should learn about. Moreover, Meek’s incarceration shows how the criminal justice system stalks Black people, and appropriately and necessarily led to massive protests in Philadelphia.
Meek Mill experienced a decade-long battle with Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system. Nineteen year-old Meek got tied up in Philadelphia’s court system after his arrest in 2007 that led to several charges. Following trial, Meek Mill experienced a long, common, and problematic probation.
In this unit, students are shocked to discover that Pennsylvania has one of the highest numbers of people on parole and angered by the amount of charges Meek Mill initially received. Justice is in the details, and Meek’s case exposed significant problems in the probation system. Meek received additional incarceration and probation time for using water guns in a music video, and for simply moving one video shoot in a Philadelphia neighborhood to another. Furthermore, Meek Mill was sentenced to an additional two to four years in prison for popping wheelies in New York, even though New York dropped the charges against him.
After watching clips from the “Free Meek” documentary available on Amazon and participating in class discussion, I remind students that Meek was fortunate to have the financial means for lawyers and other supportive resources. Several of my students know someone caught up in the system, and the details they discovered by studying Meek’s case matter to them.
Prior to the writing assessment we debate through a chart paper activity what should be done to fix the probation system. Some students suggest that the state of Pennsylvania should pass legislation to reduce the amount of possible probation violations or original probation period. Others argue that there needs to be some sort of independent review if the probation officer (as in Meek’s case), does not agree with a judge’s decision.
By the time students sit down to write their assignment they feel and are confident and prepared. A major reason students feel good about a major writing assignment is because they felt good learning the content. They are truly anchored in instruction.
Lastly, I must mention that this year’s theme for the Teaching Black History Conference is the “Sound of Blackness” celebrating the 50th Anniversary of hip hop. Music has and always will be a key tool of Black resistance and empowerment. Meek’s story is only one part of it, but for me, it ultimately provides a relevant introduction to studying Black history.