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The significance of standardized testing is not new to educators in the state of Michigan. When I began teaching over 15 years ago as a public school teacher, I was responsible for preparing students for an end-of-the-year test that was intended to measure content from the first three quarters of the school year.

The Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP) is used as an evaluative tool to rank schools in Michigan. M-STEP is administered each year in April. By the time scores are released, typically late summer, there is minimal benefit to inform instruction for the teacher or student in the current school year.

The reality of educators teaching for “catch-up growth” is far too common. Given the new Michigan third-grade retention law, this mandate creates heightened pressure for districts, but particularly those with transient populations to prepare third grade students to pass the English language arts portion of M-STEP.

This forces educators to take the approach of “teaching to the test” rather than addressing the root cause of academic gaps or, even greater, flaws in the standardized test.

Specifically, nearly 55% of Michigan third-graders failed the English language arts M-STEP in 2018 and 2019. This trend points to a larger issue that must be addressed: The majority of third-grade students in Michigan are not passing the third-grade M-STEP English language arts test.

In light of the third-grade retention law, our district has prioritized efforts that focus on prevention rather than remediation.

A reliable assessment that we use to measure student progress is the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP). Widely used throughout the state and country, this assessment is administered three times per year to students in grades K-8. Based on the results, teachers develop an individualized learning plan to pinpoint specific needs and opportunities for growth in reading and math. Students are re-assessed in December and May.                        

MAP testing provides the following: 1) measures both growth and achievement of common core state standards; 2) is an adaptive test that assesses where students begin and the amount of growth that is made over time; 3) measures and tracks a cohort of students over the course of three years; 4) compares students to grade-like peers within the city and across the country, and 5) allows teachers to deliver differentiated content to students to meet individual learning needs.

Based on our 2018-19 end of the year MAP data, our district showed an overwhelming increase in the percentage of students meeting and exceeding growth projections in reading by over 15% as compared to the previous academic year.

In addition to a strong academic focus for measuring student growth and achievement over time, another value-added measure that we use is an emphasis on social and emotional learning. Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a framework, we are working to address the conditions that are necessary to support every student’s right for an equitable education and ensure that basic needs are met.

This means that recognizing the impact of trauma and other social factors on educational outcomes is a reality that we choose not to ignore. Addressing trauma coupled with social and emotional learning allows us to educate the whole child.

Hence, when districts prioritize addressing the needs of students first, academic achievement follows. More than just test scores, the mental, social and emotional well-being of our students is equally important.

Sabrina Claude is superintendent of schools for the Old Redford Academy School District in Detroit.

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