by Brian McVicar, MLive

Changing Michigan’s standardized test could “undermine” a new school accountability system proposed by the Michigan Department of Education, according to an analysis released Wednesday by Education Trust-Midwest, a nonpartisan education policy and research group.

The Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress is the state’s “first honest and rigorous assessment in two decades,” and MDE’s plan to revise the exam would mean that “parents and educators will not know whether Michigan’s public schools are truly on track to catch up with the rest of the nation,” said Amber Arellano, the group’s executive director.

MDE’s proposed school accountability system is included in the state’s plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, the new federal K-12 education law. The law replaces the No Child Left Behind Act, which was widely viewed as federal overreach into the nation’s schools. It returns significant power to states to craft their own policies for areas such as standardized testing, teacher evaluations and turning around failing schools.

MDE is expected to submit its plan to the U.S. Department of Education in April. It’s currently open for public comment through March 16.
As of now, the M-STEP is given once per-year in grades 3-8, but the state wants a new or revised assessment system in place during the 2018-19 school year. MDE envisions a test, in grades 3-7, that would be given once in the fall, once in the spring, with an optional mid-year test in the winter. The M-STEP would still be given once in elementary school and middle school, the MDE says.
The idea behind the changes is to move away from a test given once per-year that shows whether students are meeting academic targets to one given multiple times during the year that measures growth and gives more immediate feedback to help students set goals to achieve, according to MDE.
Students in grades 8-10 would take the PSAT once per-year, while 11th graders would take the SAT, according to MDE’s plan.

State Superintendent Brian Whiston said the new approach would reduce overall testing. Many school districts already use local assessments administered multiple times per year to measure student growth. With the MDE’s new approach, districts would no longer need such exams, he said.

“I do believe we as a state spend too much time testing and put too much emphasis on testing,” Whiston said earlier this month after MDE’s plan was released for public comment.

Ed Trust’s analysis says changing the M-STEP would be a mistake, because it would create a system where “no one in the state would know for sure how our public schools are truly performing compared to other states around the country–or whether we’re really catching up with the rest of the nation.”

MDE officials could not immediately be reached late Tuesday afternoon to respond to the Ed Trust analysis. But the department has said any new assessment would be aligned with Michigan’s college- and career-ready standards.

The Ed Trust report gave good marks to a new A-F school report card included in the plan, which the group said would give parents a “clear and single” rating showing whether schools “are meeting the needs of all groups.”

The report card grades students on a mix of academic measures, as well as factors such as chronic absenteeism and access to advanced coursework.

But for the school report card to be meaningful, it must be rooted in “honest” data – something the Ed Trust fears would be lacking under the MDE’s proposed assessment.

The Ed Trust analysis critiqued other elements of MDE’s plan as well.

While elements of the A-F report card were praised, the analysis pointed out that about half of the state’s schools would receive an A or B under the system. That’s problematic, Ed Trust says, because national data show Michigan is a “bottom 10” state on key indicators of student progress.

“Telling parents and schools that everything is fine with most schools when in fact, student achievement levels have been plummeting, would be downright dishonest,” the analysis said

MDE’s plan should also take more robust steps to ensure all students have access to quality teachers, the Ed Trust analysis says. Stronger support and professional growth opportunities are needed for teachers and administrators in high-poverty districts, where students “often have the highest rates of inexperienced educators,” the analysis said.

“Michigan now has one of this decade’s most important leadership opportunities to get serious about becoming a top ten state,” said Arellano, the group’s executive director. “The question is, are MDE leaders making the most of this urgent opportunity?

Click here to read the full article in MLive.