Less than half of students proficient in math on M-STEP

The Detroit News

Less than half of Michigan students achieved proficiency in math on the state’s new M-STEP exam, though Michigan education officials say the scores overall were higher than they expected.

In every grade tested, less than half of students achieved proficiency in math, with third-graders faring the best, at 49 percent. Just 28 percent of 11th-graders were proficient.

Proficiency rates were more consistent in English Language Arts on the M-STEP, ranging from 45 percent for sixth-graders to 50 percent for third-graders.

The Michigan Department of Education released statewide results Tuesday from the new standardized exam, which students took for the first time last spring. Results for individual districts will be released later.

The Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, a mostly online exam, replaced the Michigan Educational Assessment Program, a paper-and-pencil test, after 44 years.

Students last took the MEAP in fall 2013.

In many instances, the M-STEP tests students’ proficiency in certain subjects at different grade levels than the MEAP, making apples-to-apples comparisons difficult. For example, students were tested on science in fifth grade on the MEAP; the M-STEP tests students on science in fourth grade.

In math, proficiency rates rose among third-graders compared with the final MEAP results but fell in every other grade: fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and 11th.

“With this all-new and more rigorous test, we expected statewide student scores to be lower than what we’d seen with the old MEAP tests,” Brian Whiston, state school superintendent, said in a statement. “While the overall scores on this new test are low, they aren’t as low as we first thought they could be.”

The Education Trust-Midwest, a Royal Oak-based think tank, called the new exam a good first step toward boosting student achievement.

“Leading education states such as Massachusetts started their educational turnarounds by raising their standards for teaching and learning,” said Amber Arellano, the group’s executive director. “Michigan’s leaders should be applauded for making this change here, but they should not stop there. Now our leaders must ensure all the state’s teachers and principals are trained to educate at these new higher levels, starting with Gov. Rick Snyder’s top priority for improvement: third-grade literacy.”

The M-STEP was developed after state lawmakers in the summer of 2014 scrapped plans to begin administering Smarter Balanced, a computer-adaptive test in which subsequent questions would become easier or harder, depending on a student’s answers.

According to state education officials, 80 percent of students who took the M-STEP last spring used the computer version of the test; a paper-and-pencil version was offered for districts that weren’t equipped for online testing.

Students in grades three through eight and 11th grade were tested in math and English Language Arts, which replaced separate reading and writing exams given to some grades as part of the MEAP.

Students in grades four, seven and 11 were tested in science on the M-STEP, while students in grades five, eight and 11 were tested in social studies.

The state’s 11th-graders also took the ACT college entrance exam this past spring; Michigan is switching next spring to the SAT.

Michigan’s overall average ACT score edged upward, from 19.8 in 2014 to 20.2 this year, and average scores also rose in English, from 18.9 to 19.4, and reading, from 19.8 to 20.1

The average ACT science score stayed at 20.1, while scores dropped slightly in math, from 19.6 to 19.5, and in writing, from 6.8 to 6.7.

There were scattered complaints last spring about technical problems with the electronic version of the M-STEP. Some teachers and parents also complained about the amount of class time the test used up, leading the state to make some changes in the exam for next spring.

Students in grades three, four, six and seven will no longer take an English Language Arts performance task, reducing test time by two hours, according to the state Department of Education.

In addition, when Michigan switches to the SAT, the English and math parts of the college entrance exam will be used in place of M-STEP exams in those subjects for 11th-graders, saving up to eight hours of testing time.