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First-year M-STEP results on par with state expectations

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published November 4, 2015

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METRO DETROIT — The Michigan Department of Education hit the “reset” button on student assessment testing in 2014, announcing the replacement of the 44-year-old Michigan Education Assessment Program, or MEAP, tests with the more comprehensive Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, or M-STEP, exam.

According to the Michigan Department of Education, 80 percent of Michigan students across the state took the first ever M-STEP test this past spring. 

The test, which was administered mostly via computer, comes on the heels of a different statewide focus on education. Whereas more rigorous standards were introduced statewide in 2010 — notably in areas like mathematics — tests such as M-STEP are meant to better prepare students for future careers.

State Superintendent Brian Whiston stated in a press release that M-STEP measures state standards in accordance to what students are actually learning. In an effort to move beyond bubble sheets and multiple choice questions, tests are now more interactive and engaging, and students must demonstrate critical thinking, problem solving and deeper knowledge through written responses.

Results will be released in a staggered sequence. Public statewide aggregates were recently released, while schools and districts are receiving testing data through the MDE website for their own access. School and district aggregates are expected to be released by the end of this year.

Whiston noted that the MDE expected statewide scores to be lower than the older MEAP tests due to new implementation in what is described as a benchmark year.

“While the overall scores on this new test are low, they aren’t as low as we first thought they could be,” Whiston said. “In order to prepare our students for the careers of the 21st century and to vault Michigan to become a top-10 education state in 10 years, we need high standards and rigorous assessments.

“This year’s results set the new baseline from which to build.”

M-STEP, which was administered to students in grades three to 11, showed varied results in its inaugural year. Proficiency in areas such as English language arts, science, and social studies were sporadic, while proficiency in mathematics decreased from third grade to 11th grade.

MDE spokeswoman Jan Ellis said that as far as results go, scores tend to be lower whenever a bar is raised. Tests like M-STEP provide standards needed for students to graduate, while they also serve as a foundation for teacher curriculums and lesson plans.

“Getting children ready to take their place in the world is challenging, and the knowledge continually evolves to ensure college and career demands,” Ellis said. “The first step is setting high learning standards and what students should know and do per subject in each grade level.”

The next step is to provide educators with the expected standards so that students are aware of them and can meet them. The more aligned a curriculum is, the more likely a student is to perform at those higher levels, Ellis said.

“It’s a process: You first set the standards, teachers align the curriculum, students learn what teachers are teaching, and then you test to see how the students are doing,” she said. “It’s only one benchmark and should not be considered an end all. Whenever you raise standards, you have to re-align a current test or create a new one.”

The ACT, which will be replaced statewide by the SAT for all students in 2016, revealed a higher average than the past three years. Ellis said the aggregates were minimally higher, by a few percentage points, so there’s no real conclusion as to what those results suggest.

“I’m not sure there’s any correlation at this point,” she said.

As for the difference in overall results, she said the department noticed that students in grades three and four who received classroom instruction from the time M-STEP was initially announced tended to perform better.

It’s a swing between early and later grades because students learn at different levels throughout their school careers.

She used the example of reading and how when children learn to read, there are peaks and valleys. Some learn how to read but don’t have enough comprehension, and that trend continues until they reach a level where they know enough to apply it to other subjects.

In spring 2016, Michigan students in grades three to eight will take the M-STEP, while students in grade 11 will take the Michigan Merit Exam — which includes the SAT, WorkKeys and M-STEP science and social studies tests.

And new for next spring, students in grades nine and 10 will take the PSAT.

MDE Deputy Superintendent of Accountability Services Venessa Keesler said in a release that the 2016 M-STEP will also include improvements that are based upon the first implementation feedback of school districts and a survey of more than 26,000 students and 5,000 parents.

“MDE heard that the testing time was an issue for schools in this first implementation,” Keesler said. “For spring 2016, MDE is able to reduce testing time for juniors taking the Michigan Merit Exam by eight hours and by 2 1/2 hours for grades three, four, six and seven.”

Looking ahead, the state will implement more rigorous science and social studies standards that will help 55 percent of Michigan students who are already college and career ready.

Similar to the standards of the M-STEP, Ellis said those two areas of study have not changed in many years and are now being configured to better meet expectations and preparation.

“There is a realization to meet whatever the workforce and job opportunities require,” Ellis said, “getting across that standards continue to be changed over time when it’s necessary based on workplace results.

“(The 2015) benchmark year and (M-STEP) test administration went very well. It offers us an opportunity to build and see students’ scores continue to increase as class curriculums become better aligned.”

For more about M-STEP, visit www.michigan.gov/mde.

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