Stay the course on M-STEP testing

Ken Whipple

There’s a lot of bad news about Michigan’s educational performance these days, as our students fall further behind kids in nearly every other state. That alone should be an urgent call to action.

But here’s some good news: Michigan students and teachers have risen to the challenge presented by the M-STEP, the state’s more challenging assessment introduced two years ago.

The state fixed some of the wrinkles in the M-STEP from last year, and this year’s test came off without a hitch. Testing time was cut in half, and results are being distributed much more quickly.

When the state released the data this week from last spring’s assessment, the results were disappointing, but expected. Our students clearly are not getting the preparation they need and deserve.

But that’s no reason to get rid of the M-STEP, as some leaders in our state are reportedly considering. When you get a bad report card, the first response shouldn’t be to throw it away or change the grading standards. Instead, the first move should be to mobilize all the resources—kids, parents, and teachers—to do better the next time.

Scores will likely continue to improve over the next few years, as students and teachers become more familiar with the test and are better supported on Michigan’s higher academic expectations.

M-STEP is one of the most important steps we’ve taken to improve teaching and learning in Michigan in decades, allowing us to get good information in real time, and data that will show how we compare with other states. It will help teachers and parents identify where students struggle and where they excel. Working together, they can make sure that students are provided the support and challenges that they need.

From the experience of other states, we know that adopting higher standards and measuring progress through a rigorous assessment are keys to raising student achievement.

The M-STEP is part of a healthy process, all about being honest with ourselves about how we’re doing, and not being afraid of what the data tell us. Doesn’t everyone want to know how their kids are doing, compared with kids in other cities, states, and countries?

We’ve asked a lot of our students, parents, and teachers and need to give them time to meet and exceed our higher expectations. Students and teachers need stability, and everyone—especially parents and policy makers—deserves timely and reliable data.

M-STEP is a giant step forward to meeting the goal of making Michigan a top ten education state, and helping our kids to compete in our quickly changing world. Now we need to stay the course.

Ken Whipple is the chair of the Michigan Achieves leadership council.