MDE urges districts to move 3rd grade MSTEP test one week earlier

Rescheduling will give more time for retention appeals

By: Jonathan Shead | C&G Newspapers | Published February 3, 2020

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METRO DETROIT — The clock may be ticking a little faster for some third grade teachers, students and parents as Michigan Department of Education Deputy Superintendent of Education, Student and School Supports Venessa Keesler sent out two memos earlier in January “strongly urging” school districts to move the third grade Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress a week earlier.

The department memos state that moving the MSTEP a week earlier will allow parents more time to request appeals for their child if they are flagged for retention under the Read by Grade Three law. A score of 1252 or lower on the English Language Arts portion of the MSTEP test would flag students to possibly repeat third grade.

The memos also strongly urge school districts to devise a plan, if one is not already in place, to send their own communication home to parents with students who are flagged for retention prior to when official communications from the Center for Educational Performance and Information are sent June 1.

The statewide testing window, which was previously scheduled for May 4-29, will now be open April 27-May 22.

While the MDE is strongly urging districts to make these changes, it is not mandatory, unless a district planned to test during the week of May 25; it would then need to reschedule its test to comply with the new window.

Following the assessment, parents will have a 30-day window upon receiving official contact from the state to submit a good cause exemption appeal, which is submitted to and handled by individual districts. Districts are required to notify families of their decision at least 30 days before the start of the 2020-21 school year.

The decision of whether or not to move the testing schedule varies by district, and Don Brosky, the assistant superintendent of educational services for Chippewa Valley Schools, said his district will be doing so.

“If something is sent out from the state, we’re going to attempt to follow (it) the best we can, but we do then have to make some accommodations,” he said.

MDE officials said they are not worried that moving the test a week earlier — and cutting into instructional time — will have an impact on student preparedness and outcomes, said Bill Disessa, an MDE spokesperson. He said districts have had “time to prepare and practice.”

Brosky agreed.

“My personal opinion is I don’t think a week is going to make a difference,” Brosky said. “We’ve been preparing for this since we found out back in 2016. Our teachers are aware of it. We’re going to go about the business of educating kids. … We’re going to do our best to make sure our third graders are prepared and hope they’re going to be successful, (but) this is one small snapshot of what goes on throughout the school year when it comes to educating your kids.”

Michele Hojnacki, a teacher at Lakewood Elementary School in the Huron Valley School District who has been teaching third grade for 26 years, disagreed. She said her school district will not be moving the test forward a week because they already believe it’s early enough. Huron Valley was originally, and still is, scheduled to test May 1.

“The more a child reads, the more they achieve. Testing a week earlier could make a difference for a child,” she said. “It could make a difference for a kid who’s on the bubble by just a couple scores. I think they should go in as strong as they can, and we’re putting those, especially those at-risk kids, with a disadvantage by stealing away some learning time.”

Hojnacki said the critical matter at hand is getting the test results back in a timely manner. She believes the burden should be on the state to process and disseminate test scores more quickly.

“The state needs, perhaps, a better reporting system, if that’s the problem. I would ask the state, if we’re taking the test in May, why are they expecting us not to know until June? Why are we waiting a month for scores with all the electronic testing?” she said. “If we have those scores more immediately, like we see with other standardized tests like the (Northwest Evaluation Association) test, we can have a quick turnaround with notifying parents.”

While Hojnacki isn’t personally feeling the pressure, she understands that teachers in districts with lower-performing students might have heightened anxiety over these suggested changes.

Kate Fraser, a Rochester Community Schools parent with a daughter in third grade, sees the pros and cons in this situation. She said that if the state and school districts that decide to move their testing a week earlier are ensuring they communicate and pivot appropriately, she doesn’t believe students would be significantly behind. However, she wishes the MDE would’ve recommended the schedule change earlier because she believes there could be scenarios where students are disadvantaged due to loss of time.

Overall, Brosky said he believes that what a child does or does not know is only part of the battle when taking a standardized test. Other factors come into play, including the environment, the student’s attitude and more.

“We’d like to keep business as usual. … We don’t want the bells and whistles that could be a distraction for the students, and that’s what we’re hoping for our teachers, as well.”

For more information on Michigan’s Read by Grade Three law and MSTEP testing, visit michigan.gov/mde.