Lansing— State education officials are feverishly working to develop a new statewide assessment with less than eight months to go until the start of high-stakes testing for Michigan’s K-12 students.
The new test, which is replacing the MEAP (the Michigan Education Assessment Program), marks the first time student performance on statewide tests will be part of teacher evaluations in Michigan, starting with the 2014-15 school year.
The Michigan Department of Education is under the gun to develop a new test — a process that normally takes two to three years— after state lawmakers in June nixed its plans to use a computer-adaptive test called Smarter Balanced for assessments in the spring of 2015.
Instead, lawmakers ordered a “revamp” of the MEAP for the upcoming school year, and for the department to put out bids by Sept. 1 for an entirely new assessment for 2015-16.
The new test, which will be given to students in grades three through eight and to 11th-graders in math and English Language Arts, remains unnamed.
With seven weeks to go until the start of school on Sept. 2, educators say they are doing their best to plan for the new year and wait for test details.
“There is a certain degree of nervousness and anxiety around the new assessment just because it’s being used to make such high-stakes decisions,” said Nate Walker, a K-12 organizer and policy analyst with the American Federation of Teachers Michigan. “Like anything else, teachers — rightfully so — want time to prepare themselves to implement the standards and prepare their students to succeed.”
Andrew Middlestead, director of office of standards and assessments at the state Department of Education, said the agency is working with up to four vendors and partners to identify test questions and content aligned with Michigan’s Common Core Standards — which the old MEAP was not — to create a next-generation assessment.
The department hopes to move to an adaptive computer test with a paper and pencil option for districts that need it. Middlestead said he wants to have the content identified and in place before the end of the calendar year, to allow the MDE time “to test things and ramp up for administering the test in the spring.”
“The situation we’ve been put in is a very troublesome one,” he said. “It requires a tremendous amount of work and effort to navigate and manage.
“We are not able to advise our stakeholders the way we would like to advise them. We want to be clear and up front as far as advance as possible, but the environment we have been in has made that impossible,” Middlestead said.
State officials began preparing to implement Smarter Balanced in 2011, signing an agreement through 2016 with the consortium of more than 20 states that developed the interactive exam. When asked if Smarter Balanced questions could appear on the new test, Middlestead declined comment.
“We need to be able to acquire enough items to fill a blueprint that will adequately measure content for math and English Language Arts,” he said. “All we can say is we are working with all of the vendors to identify content.”
Bob Floden, co-director of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University, said the new test is likely to fall short on covering all of the Common Core Standards in place now.
“Students are supposed to be able to construct viable argument and critique others. They are probably not going to find that for the test. Test companies are spending $150 million to work on these things. It’s likely the new test won’t give adequate attention to all the parts of the CC but they will rely on more of what they had in the past,” he said.
The state education department issued a “clarification” memo Thursday to local and intermediate superintendents saying the state was not returning to the “old MEAP.” Still, the department’s plans aren’t exactly clear to many educators.
Anne Mull, director of instruction and assessment in the Troy School District, said it’s her understanding that the new test will be the same for every student, rather than adaptive like Smarter Balanced. On an adaptive test, as students answer questions correctly, succeeding questions become harder.
Mull said she hopes the state will soon publish the testing blueprints for the 2015 assessments and that they clearly define what will be assessed.
“The Smarter Balanced test was computer adaptive and offered technology-enhanced, interactive test questions that would provide scores for students across a spectrum of achievement levels,” she said. “This new type of assessment would be nearly impossible to administer using traditional paper and pencil tools.”
Steve Matthews, superintendent of the Novi Community School District, said the state is not providing clear direction on the new assessment, but his staff is proceeding as if the test will contain questions from the old MEAP, with new ones added to align with Common Core Standards.
“It’s become a very politicized process as opposed to educational and that’s very frustrating for me,” Matthews said.
Michigan lawmakers derailed Smarter Balanced, citing a desire for local control and, in part, because of pushback against Common Core among conservatives.
Several other states have dumped the test or left the consortium that developed it. Kansas dropped out last December and contracted with the University of Kansas to develop tests. The next month, Alaska quit, and South Carolina withdrew in April. Utah left the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium in 2012.
The new test must measure student growth, something the MEAP did not do, for Michigan to keep its waiver from some provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. About $1 billion in federal funds is attached to the waiver.