Michigan teachers union takes aim at M-STEP rollout

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News
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The Michigan Education Association called Tuesday for state officials not to use data from the new standardized assessment in teacher evaluations or district rankings, citing reports of problems with the test.

Officials with the Michigan Department of Education pushed back against the claims by the teachers’ union, saying the initial testing is going smoothly and that problems are isolated and have been addressed promptly. The state also said it won’t use the results to assess districts’ performance.

The union’s president, Steven Cook, said in an open letter to Gov. Rick Snyder that “we’re hearing loud and clear from our members just some of the many problems associated with M-STEP.”

The Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress is being given for the first time this spring to students in grades 3-8 and grade 11. Cook said districts are having computer problems related to the online exam, and that it’s taking more time to administer than districts were led to believe.

“It’s impossible to believe that this test could be an accurate measure of student growth,” he said. “We can’t use unreliable data to judge teachers and school districts.”

Cook said teachers have reported that some students were “locked out” of the computerized exam before finishing it, and a middle school experienced problems with computers crashing or freezing during testing.

“MEA is urging that any use of the test results be postponed until we have adequate and reliable data,” he said. “At this point, the M-STEP is not capable of providing a reliable measure of student growth.”

The Michigan Department of Education defended the exam and its rollout, saying testing is going well in most districts.

“While there have been a few isolated incidents reports, no widespread test system failures or network issues have occurred, and the reported incidents have been resolved in a timely manner,” department spokesman Martin Ackley said in a statement.

Ackley said state Superintendent Mike Flanagan decided months ago that this year’s M-STEP results “will NOT be used for high-stakes purposes. We will NOT be producing a Scorecard or a Top-to-Bottom list.

“The MEA is urging that the state postpones the use of test results until there are adequate and reliable data,” Ackley said. “That is already done. We committed to that months ago.”

MDE also said the state gave districts from April until June to complete testing, and that the total time taking the exam amounts to about 1 percent of a student’s instructional time for the school year.

M-STEP was developed last year after state lawmakers killed plans to use a computer-adaptive test, Smarter Balanced, because they associated it with the controversial Common Core state standards. The new exam replaces the Michigan Educational Assessment Program, which the state used for four decades.

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