Michigan weighs next step after M-STEP

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A standardized test with faster results that takes less time to take.

That’s what educators and the state education officials want from a new test that could replace the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, better known as M-STEP.

Three years into using the test for Michigan’s public school students, officials with the state’s Department of Education are searching this fall for a new assessment.

Students in grades 3-8 have been taking the M-STEP since the 2014-15 school year. The test is given online to about 98 percent of students and measures student knowledge in English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.

Eastpointe Community Schools Superintendent Ryan McLeod said the state did make strides in reducing testing times in recent years and getting the data to educators quicker, but the M-STEP process is still not fast enough. Districts typically get the data in June, the same month school ends.

“We are receiving it more quickly, but it still too slow for us to be able to use to it change instruction and meet individual needs of students,” McLeod said. “In education terms, the state testing we look at as an autopsy. It is after the fact. There is not a lot you can do with the data in your day-to-day instruction.”

By Oct. 1, state education officials are required to seek proposals for a new state assessment. Michigan lawmakers put the requirement into this year’s state aid bill and tacked on a few new requirements.

They include:

The new assessment will test students in grades 3 through 7 in math and English language arts. The current test assesses 3-8.

The test may not exceed three hours in duration on average for math and English. The current test takes an average of four to eight hours, state education officials said.

By Jan. 1, the state department of education must approve a statewide assessment from the proposals or develop the department’s own assessment that meets state requirements.

M-STEP testing will continue through the 2017-18 school year. But as part of Michigan’s goal to become a top 10 education state within 10 years, State School Superintendent Brian Whiston wants to transition to a new system of assessments in the 2018-19 school year.

Part of the new plan for 2018-19 includes transitioning the eighth grade assessment from the M-STEP to the PSAT 8/9 for math and English language arts, state education officials said.

Whiston has outlined his goals for the new state test, in what he calls an assessment vision, and in a letter to parents. They call for a benchmark assessment in the fall, an optional group-work/problem-solving activity in the winter and a comprehensive benchmark assessments in the spring, similar to the M-STEP.

Whiston has publicly said he wants the new test to provide timely, meaningful and useful information for teachers so they can develop a game plan for meeting the needs of each student.

“There has been some volatility in statewide assessments recently,” he said. “We want to be responsive to educators; develop a solid and informative testing system; then let it stand for at least 10 years.”

M-STEP testing time has been significantly reduced since its first year when the test took seven to 16 hours. Most students recently spent an average of four to eight hours on the state assessment, state education officials said.

McLeod said his Macomb County district spends time implementing its own testing processes throughout the school year. He supports changes to the state assessment that provide feedback and data during the school year to allow time to make adjustments in teaching.

He also welcomes reducing the state assessment to three hours.

“To assess on a mass scale in as quickly as three hours is a great goal. It will be interesting to see if they can reach it. I hope they reach it,” he said.

Madison Schools Superintendent Randy Speck said whether it’s the MSTEP or the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) — the test the state retired in 2014 — his teachers will adjust.

“Curriculum alignment is an ever evolving process. The state doesn’t really give you a map. They give you a new test, and then we have to figure out how it aligns. So we do,” Speck said.

The M-STEP is an accurate test in reading and math scores for his students, Speck said, but in social studies and science “teachers pull their hair out a little bit. We know the standards, but maybe it doesn’t correlate.”

“The state ought to find something and stick with it. We have three years of data. Why not 10? Maybe we don’t need 40 like with the MEAP, but let’s stick with it over a student generation,” Speck said.

Chris Wigent, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators, a nonprofit that represents superintendents in 10 regions across the state, said he supports Whiston’s vision for a new test and system.

“This new vision reduces testing time, gets results quicker and allows for a more genuine look at student growth,” Wigent said.

Brian Gutman, director of public engagement at the Education Trust - Midwest, said changing the test or the test content now would force Michigan to reset the clock on its data yet again.

“Now is the time to build on this work and move the needle forward,” he said.