Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Michigan test concerns superintendents

A new statewide testing system for Michigan’s public school students appears to be in the works, but superintendents are expressing some concern.

The system would be aligned with the Common Core standards for math and reading that the legislature approved last year.

The state Department of Education has contracts ready to implement something called the Smarter Balanced assessment system, but the fact that it would be new to students is worrying some school officials.

Among companies that have testing materials available, Smarter Balanced has been endorsed by the Michigan Assessment Consortium as most appropriate for the state. The Education Trust-Midwest, a statewide education research, information and advocacy organization also has endorsed Smarter Balanced.

A statement issued by superintendents from Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties said that while Smarter Balanced meets a number of desirable criteria, “it is unclear whether or not Michigan has done sufficient field testing to assure accurate and adequate implementation of this new assessment system. Also, there are parts of the system still under development. We recommend due diligence on the state’s part before implementing and then using this new assessment system for accountability purposes.”

“I don’t have the confidence it’s going to be done right. Too much emphasis is put on one assessment,” said Riverview Superintendent Russell Pickell, echoing the formal statement by the superintendents.

“We believe a statewide assessment applied to every student in every grade needs to be carried out ONLY because it is required by the federal government in order to receive federal funds,” the superintendents said. “If not for that, we would not support a single statewide test given every year to every student for accountability purposes. If federal rules allowed, we believe that the state could accurately inform itself as to the progress of students on the standards via state-developed benchmark testing which could be done at three grade levels (such as 4,7,10) with a random sample of students.”

Pickell also questioned “the amount of time these tests take.” He said the state is being rushed into the new system because of deadlines.

He worries about how the test results will be used, and pointed out that it is so technology dependent — i.e., can only be taken online — some scores “may have nothing to do with achievement.”

The first time the test is used it can do nothing more than establish a baseline, Pickell said.
Wyandotte School Superintendent Carla Harting also indicated support for the concerns raised in the statement by the superintendents from the three counties.

The superintendents from the three counties acknowledged they appear to have no choice.

Earlier this month, officials from the Education Trust-Midwest addressed the legislature to voice support of the state’s plans to implement the new college- and career-ready state assessment system.

“Michigan’s new assessment system will provide us a powerful driver to transform our public schools’ teaching and learning — and ensure all of our students are college- and career-ready for today’s globally competitive knowledge economy,” said Amber Arellano, executive director of ETM.

However, ETM cautioned against state leaders allocating budget money to be used to support one state assessment for educator evaluations and to measure student performance, and another to measure student growth for school accountability purposes.

“Such a move would result in unnecessary additional testing time for students, and unnecessary and significant additional costs for the state to bear,” Arellano said.

“Our state’s planned new assessment system will generate far more reliable, helpful student growth data than Michigan has ever had,” said Sarah Lenhoff, director of policy and research for ETM. “These rich new data will help educators and schools tailor interventions and learning strategies for students, even in their K-3 years. If developed and funded appropriately, we will have such a system in place by spring of 2015.”

“This is a game-changer for our state,” Arellano said.

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