By Haley Kluge
The Holt Journal
On Jan. 7, the State of Michigan announced statewide test changes coming in spring 2016.
Through the transition of testing materials, parents, students and school districts face turmoil with the new demanding test schedule.
Students begin testing at the elementary level, making each grade level feel the affect.
Temporary switch to M-STEP
Michigan implemented a temporary test in place of the MEAP. Testing includes third, sixth and eleventh grade students and will begin when students return from spring break.
Last year’s school budget required the Department of Education to issue a new request for proposals for a state assessment. After a proposal for the smarter balance assessment was denied, the Math, Science and Technology Enhancement Program (M-STEP) was created as an interim test for the spring of 2015.
“It’s a one-time-only test that’s meant to fill in this gap year,” Kefgen said. “We hope that things will get better next year and that this year is going to produce a lot of information that schools can use to use to improve instruction. If not, then we spent a whole lot of time testing and not a lot to show for it.”
This year’s M-STEP test will occur during the spring of 2015 and then will be replaced for following years. Once the MEAP was no longer being considered for statewide testing, the state needed testing for the gap year until a contract was finalized for future exams.
Next year’s updated exam will be created by the company that created the M-STEP content. The two will be similar in form with slight variations.
From the 2013-2014 school year to the 2014-2015 school year, three different standardized tests have been used statewide. The inconsistencies have caused confusion and loss of instructional time, as teachers are forced sacrifice time for a more demanding test schedule.
ACT to SAT
In addition to the temporary M-STEP, juniors will face additional testing updates.
Beginning in spring 2016, Michigan juniors will participate in SAT testing. The ACT has previously been used as the standardized college entrance exam, but was replaced in a recent contract update.
Testing of high school students is contracted by the state. It assembles a Joint Evaluation Committee of specialized teachers and administrators. At the end of a contract with a testing company, competing companies can place bids for upcoming years.
This year, two test companies submitted bids for statewide college entrance exam testing. The evaluation committee decides which bid has a higher technical value for the dollar; ACT scored 80, SAT scored 90. The ACT has been a part of Michigan testing since 2008.
“They felt that the SAT better aligned with the state’s standards,” Associate Director of Government Relations of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals Bob Kefgen said. “I’ve seen the numbers and it looks significantly less expensive. But as far as if it better aligns with standards, I can’t speak to that. We’re going to have to trust that this is the best assessment for students.”
In addition to a new testing company, there will also be a redesign of the SAT. The new version will launch next spring.
“As a parent, I’m not interested in my kid being the guinea pig,” Holt mother Amy Dalton said. “People have put in a lot of work planning and preparing kids every step of the way for the ACT is now just wasted money.”
Some fear a further loss of instructional time, as teachers have to shift their teaching plan from preparing students for the ACT to the SAT.
“They’ll never have seen this test before, even if they’ve taken a pre-SAT,” Kefgen said. “They’ll be more or less familiar with it, and they’ll be less confident. I don’t expect scores to be great the first year, but we’ll do what we can to give them the best shot that they have.”
Despite the change, administration does not think it will affect students’ futures.
“We’re already talking to Michigan State about how it will affect admissions,” Holt High School Principal Michael Willard said. “They know that the test is changing and it’ll be an adjustment for everyone.”
Lost instruction time
At the core of increased test demand, students, parents and teachers are feeling the pressure of lost instruction time and stressful work environment.
“This (testing schedule) is detrimental to kids,” Dalton said. “Anyone who is a parent, or a teacher, can understand that; it’s really difficult for children. It’s ugly and it’s getting uglier.”
This year of transition is especially demanding for student test time, ranging from 11 hours and 20 minutes to 15 hours and 50 minutes with six to eight days of lost instructional time. In addition, Holt lost five full days to weather. In comparison, students only lost two to three days for past MEAP testing.
“This spring, kids have been pulled out on random days in chunks of students, and I never really know who is going to be in my class each day,” Holt junior history student teacher Pat McKerr said. “Students are taking the test in waves since we don’t have enough computers to accommodate the test, so I lose days for all my classes anytime people are missing just to stay on track with every class.”
Teachers are losing instruction time, and are also faced with working with students who are additionally stressed by the increased amount of assessments.
“When you’re trying to wrap up lesson plans for the year, preparing people for AP testing, dealing with final exams, and then going to graduation… it’s test after test for a lot of kids,” Kefgen said. “That can really wear on people.”
While standardized testing is tied to state funding, parents recognize the issues between balancing the budget and students’ workload.
“This is torture,” Dalton said. “I know everyone’s arm is twisted with public funding, but this falls on the kids.”
Concern increases as students begin testing earlier and earlier. According to Holt High School Principal Michael Willard, testing begins in elementary schools, and continues with the Explore test for seventh and eighth grades, PLAN test for freshmen and sophomores. Previous testing is used for test preparation and student growth reports for the state.
“The pressure that we’re putting on ten-year-olds is ridiculous,” Holt mother Tara Ragauss-Page said. “Over a stupid test.”
With all of the updated and more aggressive testing, Holt is aware of the effect on students and the impact it has on education.
“The issue of standardized testing is gaining momentum not only in Holt, but across the state and across the country,” Holt Superintendent Johnny Scott said.
Some are optimistic for the future of standardized testing.
“We’re very much hopeful that moving forward we can get to a place to reduce the impact of standardized testing on instruction time,” Kefgen said. “We’re doing a lot of hours of testing this year. Too many, frankly, in our opinion. And we need to pair that back. There’s a role for assessments… when used right, it can be pretty powerful.”