By DANIELLE WOODWARD
Capital News Service
LANSING — State education officials are testing a new test over the next two weeks to measure high school students’ college and career readiness.
From March 24 to April 11, a pilot will be given to 120,000 Michigan students in 675 schools.
Some local officials worry that the test may not measure up if it takes too long or if students lack the computer skills or the schools lack the computers needed to take it.
The test was created by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a national group developing a test that aligns with the Common Core standards. Those are a consistent set of standards created to measure math, science, English and social studies programs in most states.
This testing program would replace the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP), which has been around for 40 years, said Bill DiSessa, public information officer for the Michigan Department of Education.
Unlike the old assessment given in the fall, this one will be given in spring 2015.
Students took the MEAP in October 2013 and results were not available until February so they came in too late to show what subject areas students needed to work on, DiSessa said. “Test results for the Smarter Balanced assessment are immediate so students can adjust their performance accordingly.”
The timing appealed to school officials.
“I like the fact that the testing takes place later in the year,” said Lynn Steelman, state and federal program director for the Melvindale School District in Wayne County. “Students are actually assessed on what they learned during that year, unlike the MEAP that assessed the prior year’s learning.”
The old assessment tested third through ninth grades in math and English, fifth and eighth grades in science and sixth and ninth grades in social studies. The new assessment would test grades three through 11 on English and math, DiSessa said.
If the pilot proves successful, officials will implement the test statewide.
The Michigan Department of Education will come up with its own assessments for science and social studies.
The proposed test doesn’t use only traditional multiple-choice questions. It includes questions where students have to go through multiple steps to find their answers.
Here is an example: “Five swimmers compete in the 50 meter race. The finish time for each swimmer is shown in the video. Explain how the results of the race would change if the race used a clock that rounded to the nearest tenth.”
More sample questions can be found on the Smarter Balanced website at www.smarterbalanced.org/sample-items-and-performance-tasks/
Each question the student gets is determined by how the previous one is answered, said Rep. Thomas Hooker, R-Byron Center, who is on the House Education Committee.
“It adjusts the level of difficulty as students go through the test,” DiSessa said. “If a student answers a question incorrectly it will generate an easier question and vice versa. This allows us to more accurately assess each individual student and their personal growth.”
The need for a new testing system came after legislation passed to implement the Common Core State Standards, said Kathryn Dewsbury-White, president of the Michigan Assessment Consortium, an organization that promotes the use of test taking for student success.
The Common Core is a consistent set of standards made by a group of states for the country’s math, science, English and social studies programs, Hooker said.
Forty-five states have adopted the common core standards. Michigan is among 21 states fully committed to the new test.
Last spring, legislators stopped funding the development of the Common Core standards until they could make sure that Michigan residents were in favor of it, White said. They were reassured enough to continue funding in OctoberWORD MISSING delayed the new testing method until state education officials reported on all options.
A dozen were reviewed by the Department of Education, Hooker said.
The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium’s test was the only one to meet all state needs.
But many local school officials are concerned about the test.
“Not all schools are prepared or able to have the technology that would allow for large numbers to be tested,” Hooker said. “It takes twice as long as the current assessment and some schools don’t have computer abilities to do that.”
Seventy-eight percent of school districts in Michigan are prepared for the online test and there is a paper and pencil version for those that are not, DiSessa said.
Others worry that the test may be too complex.
“I’m concerned that all students may not be fluent computer users, especially the younger ones,” Steelman said. “However, that may lead to finally getting qualified technology teachers in our elementary schools.”
Lisa Perry, a teacher at Rodgers Elementary School in Melvindale, agreed.
“To have an assessment that parallels what we are teaching with the Common Core certainly makes sense,” Perry said. “However, I’ve seen prototypes in the direction that Smarter Balanced is headed and they seem very difficult and maybe too involved.”
Some school officials are wary of what test scores will look like.
“I expect to see low performance scores because it’s the first year of implementation and the standards of the test are much more rigorous than what we’ve had in the past,” Steelman said.
By DANIELLE WOODWARD