Press Release

(February 5, 2014) –  Today Amber Arellano, Executive Director, and Sarah Lenhoff, Director of Policy and Research of the Education Trust – Midwest, gave testimony to the Michigan Legislature on Michigan’s state assessment options. Their testimony follows.

Thank you for giving us the chance to speak to you today about Michigan’s proposed state assessment system and assessment options. I am Amber Arellano, the executive director of the Education Trust-Midwest. With me today is Sarah Lenhoff, the director of policy and research at Ed Trust-Midwest. Sarah is one of Michigan’s experts in school accountability.

Ed Trust – Midwest is a non-partisan, data-driven education research, information and advocacy organization that promotes high academic achievement for all Michigan students at all levels, especially low-income students and students of color. We work to be a source of non-partisan information and expertise about Michigan education and gap closing.

Our organization has long been a supporter of college- and career-ready assessments and standards. Michigan’s implementation of our new college- and career-ready standards and aligned assessment system provide us with an unprecedented foundation on which to transform our public schools’ teaching and learning – and ensure all of our students are college- and career-ready. This is especially urgent as Michigan transitions from an industrial economy to a globally competitive knowledge economy.

Indeed, one of the first efforts Ed Trust-Midwest helped lead in Michigan was a campaign to raise the state’s dreadfully low “cut scores” on our outdated state assessments. State leaders, essentially, had not been honest to Michiganders about how well our schools had served our students. Our efforts helped lead the state to raise the cut scores in 2011. With our proposed new state assessment system, our families and educators won’t have to worry about that happening again.

We are here today to share our criteria for what research and best practices from around the country tell us are vitally important to have in our new state assessment system. Over the last six months, we also asked for input from more than 20 Michigan organizations — from the business community to K-12 associations to parent organizations — to inform and guide our criteria.

We know our time with you today is short, so we won’t discuss all of these today. But we did want to include them in the official written testimony for the record. We’d just like to highlight a few of these criteria now. They include:

•    College- and career-readiness: Michigan needs a state assessment system that is designed to measure performance against the fullest possible breadth and depth of our college- and career-ready standards and assesses workplace and college readiness, to give parents and educators a clear idea of how well prepared their children are for the modern workplace and college. Any assessment must undergo an independent, trustworthy review to ensure that it is fully aligned and designed to measure the depth of the standards, as well.

•    Complex Knowledge and Rigor: The new state assessment system should not just assess basic facts. Rather, it should cover the full range of content and skills in our new standards, including whether students can understand complex ideas; complete tasks that require higher-order thinking skills; and explain their thinking through performance tasks, such as essays.

•    Comparable Information: An assessment system that shows how Michigan students and schools are doing compared to their counterparts in other states around the country. Families and business leaders need to know how well we are preparing our children to be the workforce and leaders of the future – and we need to know how we’re doing compared to the nation and the world.

•    Michigan-friendly:
An assessment system that well-supports the state’s evolving school accountability and public school reporting system, and educator evaluation and support system. It also should allow our state to use paper and pencil tests for an interim period, to give schools time to adapt. And Michigan should retain control of data generated by the assessment system.

•    Honest, Helpful Information: An assessment system that provides clear, honest information about how our schools are performing based on high standards, including individual score reports for each student that provide detailed information about their performance against grade-level standards. (The high school assessment should signal whether students are ready for entry-level, transferable, credit-bearing courses in postsecondary. Performance in elementary /middle school should signal whether students are on-track to meet high school readiness criteria.)

•    Educator-friendly: An assessment system that includes an end-of-the year component as well as makes available to educators along-the-way interim assessments to measure progress and formative materials to help improve instruction. We support the Michigan Department of Education’s plans to pay for interim assessments and allow school districts to opt to use them. The new assessment system also should provide information on a timeline that educators need. For example, schools will need data by early June to support fair educator evaluations.

•    Broad Participation from Michigan’s and Nation’s Educators and Subject Matter Experts: An assessment system that has input from K-12 educators, higher education faculty and content experts, including from Michigan.

•    Student Privacy and Test Security:
The state assessment system must include a high level of security to prevent deception and tampering; a retake option for possible misadministration events; and privacy of student personal information. This is especially important because the results of these assessments will be used to make high-stakes decisions in our school accountability and educator evaluation systems. In order for Michiganders to feel confident that the data from the state assessment is an honest picture of where our students are, test items should be secure and should not be reported back to schools if they will be used in future test administrations.

•    Includes All Students: An assessment system that will provide accurate measures of achievement and growth for students with disabilities and English Language Learners and that has clear, publicly available policies around accessibility, accommodations, and assessments developed for those students.

•    A Tested Assessment: Any assessment system also needs to be pilot tested and should be as transparent as possible, with such publicly available documents as assessment blueprints or specifications that enable a state to know what’s covered on the assessments.

•    An 11th grade College Entrance Exam, for Equity’s Sake: We also support the inclusion of a college entrance exam for all students in 11th grade, with the state paying for this exam. This gives students who may not otherwise be able to take a college entrance exam an opportunity to do so.

We also want to caution this legislature about allocating public dollars to support one state assessment for educator evaluations and to measure student performance, and another to measure student growth for school accountability purposes. Such a move would result in unnecessary additional testing time for students, and unnecessary and significant additional costs for the state to bear.

In addition, such a scenario would result in an incoherent, unfair and confusing individual and collective state education accountability framework for principals, teachers and district leaders around the state. The state’s planned new assessment system will generate reliable, helpful student growth data that will help educators and schools tailor interventions and learning strategies for students, even in their K-3 years. We support the development of this new K-12 data system aligned with the MDE’s state assessment plans.

We thank you for your time, and welcome your questions and input.