As an educator, I don't like administering state tests any more than my students like taking them, but as school resumes, there is good news about how Michigan will assess our students.

Thanks to the work of the late State Superintendent Brian Whiston and the Michigan Department of Education, our eighth-graders start taking the PSAT this spring -- a test that is one third shorter and far more useful than the M-STEP. That means more time learning; less time testing; and faster, better information going to students, parents and educators.

This isn’t about just swapping one test for another. The PSAT is part of a nationally recognized system that measures the most enduring knowledge and skills for success in high school, college and careers.

For 8th graders, the PSAT provides information and tools to navigate a path through high school and beyond. It helps measure high school readiness, provides detailed reports for areas of improvement, and gives students access to personalized supports like study plans, lessons and practice tests. Students can also connect their PSAT results with their interests to find possible career paths and explore colleges. This assessment truly has meaning and value for students.

For parents, the online data portal provides detailed, individualized information that goes far beyond a test score. Identifying students’ strengths and weaknesses empowers parents. Individualized suggestions help them guide students to future success. That means not only getting students into college or trade school, but also avoiding remedial classes and helping them qualify for scholarships.

For educators, the PSAT is about getting reliable, actionable information in a timely manner to support students in achieving their goals. PSAT returns final results, data analysis and actionable next steps to students in just 2-3 weeks. Having an 8th grade assessment that's aligned to high school expectations provides middle level and elementary teachers an idea of how well prepared students are for the next level. Additionally, it gives high school teachers information to target instruction and support incoming freshmen.

Admittedly, the PSAT is a more rigorous test, but our students can't rise to low expectations. In Sandusky, our eighth graders have been taking the PSAT for the last three years and would continue to do so even if the state weren't making this switch. It is meaningful to our students and their parents, whether they are headed to a four-year college or trade school, community college or the military.

And it’s not just Sandusky that has been making the choice to administer the PSAT to its eighth graders. Last spring, more than 18,000 students took this assessment in 8th grade, although it was not mandated or paid for by the state. The fact that so many districts chose to pay out of pocket for the PSAT helps illustrate its value. 

Less time spent testing; faster and better information for students, parents and educators; robust, personalized supports to help students achieve their goals during high school and beyond. That's what the PSAT provides. I’m glad our state will support its use for all 8th graders this year.

Steve Carlson is principal at Sandusky Jr./Sr. High School and president of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals' Board of Directors.

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