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— The state Department of Education unveiled an online exam Thursday that will replace the Michigan Educational Assessment Program starting next spring.

The new Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress was developed to meet mandates set last summer by state lawmakers, who nixed plans to use a computer-adaptive test, Smarter Balanced.

State education officials said M-STEP meets all of the Legislature's requirements. It is an online assessment but has a paper-and-pencil option. The new exam is aligned to the state standards and expands writing assessments to additional grades.

The new test includes a higher number of "constructed response" questions that will allow students to demonstrate skills such as problem-solving.

Thursday's action means districts can plan to administer the new exam next spring.

"This is great news for our local school districts," said state school Superintendent Mike Flanagan. "They've been very anxious to hear what the new assessment will be, as we developed a new test to comply with legislatively mandated changes."

M-STEP was developed after lawmakers derailed Smarter Balanced. That test was going to be online only. Smarter Balanced was controversial because conservatives associated it with Michigan's Common Core, which they believe threaten local control of education.

In scrapping Smarter Balanced, lawmakers ordered education officials to create a revised MEAP for 2014-15 and an entirely new exam for 2015-16.Education officials will still develop a new exam for 2015-16.

"The changes in law diverted what the department and local school districts had been developing and preparing for over the past three years," Flanagan said. "It put schools in some unwelcomed limbo while our experts scrambled to find testing content that met the legislative requirements."

The Department of Education said M-STEP will include questions developed by state officials and educators as well as some developed by the Smarter Balanced consortium of states.

The new exam will test grades 3-8 in math and English language, grades 4 and 7 in science, and grades 5 and 8 in social studies. It will include an assessment for grades 3-8 and the Michigan Merit Exam for 11th-graders.

The Education Trust-Midwest, a nonpartisan think tank in Royal Oak, called the new assessment a promising replacement for the "antiquated" MEAP, which has been given to students for four decades.

"We know from leading education states that the path to a brighter educational future for all of our students begins with raising educational standards and implementing an aligned assessment," said Amber Arellano, executive director.

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