Letter: We can do better than M-STEP

Re: Our Ocotber 3 Editorial “Test swap would stunt accountability”: State Superintendent, Brian Whiston, is correct in calling for a better test than the current M-STEP.

Whiston has commented that he would prefer to see a test, at least in elementary and middle school, that has multiple assessment points within a given school year and that provides data to teachers rapidly. Such a system would provide teachers with meaningful data to their current year students. Having up to three evaluation marks available per school year is also advantageous to both students.

While it is understandably aggravating to learn that the Department of Education is once again considering giving a different test, remaining steadfast when a better solution is available is to put personal feelings ahead of what is the better answer.

Currently students take the M-STEP in the spring and data becomes available sometime during the summer. Schools can then make use of the data in the fall of the following school year. This means that the students that teachers have in front of them are no longer the students in their classrooms. School staffs then try to infer what areas of academics need improvement based on prior year results. An appropriate comparison would be to say that your doctor would try to predict what course of treatment you need based upon a prior patient who was very similar in age, gender, weight, etc. to you—but is not you.

The advance of technology in schools makes better solutions for testing possible. There are systems in the marketplace that have tests designed to give teachers information during the school year before a final assessment in the spring. These exams also provide feedback at an instant or in days rather than in weeks or months. The same tests have been around for decades and have proven track records. They too are, or can be aligned to Michigan’s content standards.

The advantage to students and teachers to such a system is clear. In the same manner a physician wants test results prior to determining treatment, teachers reviewing progress at specific points during the school year can assess how a student is doing and design interventions to address areas of need. Tests given in the spring or which render results weeks apart from instruction are nowhere near as useful as information that, with technology, can be gleaned during the school year.

Adhering to a plan because it is irritating that a better solution is available, is poor reason for continuing with the plan. Improvement requires change and change may well be inconvenient. State Superintendent Whiston’s thoughts on moving to an in-year multiple data point system would be an improvement over our current testing model. His efforts in this area would be welcomed by educators and would be beneficial for students. Michigan should lead in providing the best assessment system possible.

Louis Steigerwald, superintendent

Norway-Vulcan Area Schools