Students struggle on tougher state test that sets baseline
By David Eggert, Associated Press
LANSING, Mich. (AP) – Michigan’s new, more rigorous standardized tests show that half of students are proficient in reading while just a third are up to par in math, sobering marks that education experts say set a baseline from which the state must improve.
The first-ever M-STEP results, released Tuesday, show 45 to 50 percent proficiency in English language arts across kids tested in grades 3-8 and 11. Math scores ranged from 28 to 49 percent proficiency, science 12 to 29 percent and social studies 22 to 44 percent.
Cut scores are set so that students deemed as proficient are projected to be on a track toward career and college readiness.
The M-STEP, which students took in the spring – all but 18 percent of them online – replaced the 44-year-old paper Michigan Education Assessment Program. It is aligned with national Common Core education standards and puts less stress on multiple-choice questions and bubble sheets, instead emphasizing the measurement of critical thinking, problem solving and deeper knowledge through essays and short-answer written responses.
State officials said though the scores are low, they are not as low as they had predicted after looking at other states with tougher standards and testing.
“We think this ultimately gives us an accurate and real picture of where Michigan students are and where they need to go to be a top 10-performing state in 10 years,” state deputy superintendent Venessa Keesler said.
Proficiency percentages on the MEAP averaged from the low 60s to low 70s in reading and mid-30s to mid-40s in math.
Amber Arellano, executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest, an education policy and research organization, said Michigan is among just six states in which fourth-graders are learning at lower reading levels than a decade ago. She welcomed the new assessment. Scores generally will be down for a few years until educators learn how to teach to higher standards, she said.
“It’s really a reset of our education system. … We’ve needed new, smart, effective strategies to raise student achievement and to catch up with the rest of the country, and this is a huge lever for doing that,” Arellano said. She said it is her understanding that Michigan will give an “honest picture” and not water down its proficiency bar later if there is blowback about lower scores.
“Parents need to understand that it’s not that their kids are learning at lower levels. This is really about holding schools accountable for performing at higher levels over time,” she said.
Unlike with the MEAP, the state Education Department is publishing results in a staggered sequence. District- and school-level data will be made public later this year at an undermined date. Keesler cautioned against comparing schools and districts in the first year, noting “uncertainty” because the state did not finalize its test until November.
Lawmakers opposed to Common Core acquiesced to the standards but resisted Michigan’s plan to administer a test developed by the Smarter Balanced consortium. The M-STEP includes Smarter Balanced test items, however.
“It just was a year where a lot more was going on, so that what that score reflects can have more things impacting it than is ideal,” Keesler said. “People are ready to take this test next year and it makes it a more precise measure of exactly what a student learned.”
The M-STEP also includes the Michigan Merit Exam, in which high school juniors take a mandatory college entrance test. Starting next spring, it will be the SAT instead of the ACT and serve as the M-STEP’s English language arts and math assessments, reducing testing times by up to eight hours. Students in grades 3, 4, 6 and 7 will no longer have to complete an in-depth project during the reading and writing exam, saving 2 ½ hours.
Michigan’s average ACT score inched up to 20.2, up from 19.8 in 2014, according to the state. The highest possible score is 36.
Due to the switch to the M-STEP, the state is pausing, for three years, top-to-bottom rankings of public schools that led to the bottom 5 percent being monitored for improvement and potentially being placed into a turnaround district.
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