Interview with Executive Director of Oakland Schools about the transition from MEAP to M-STEP, comparisons, contrasts, can you opt out of M-Step?, and the future of the M-STEP standardized testing program in Michigan.
In June 2014, Michigan Legislature required the Michigan Department of Education to compose a new test for spring 2015 to replace the 44-year old MEAP (Michigan Educational Assessment Program) test. As a result, the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, or M-STEP, was developed for students in grades 3-8 and 11. The M-STEP assesses Michigan standards and benchmarks for the current school year and will be distributed after spring break.
Many parents are concerned with the new assessment exam. There have even been discussions of “opting out.” I reached out to the Michigan Department of Education, but my calls were not returned. I instead turned to Michael Yocum, Executive Director in Learning Services at Oakland County Schools, who was more than willing to help out and answer a few questions. Below is some Q&A…
Lisa LaGrou of Oakland County Moms – Let’s start with why is the state getting rid of the MEAP? Why the change to the M-STEP?
Michael Yocum, Executive Director in Learning Services of Oakland County Schools – Well, because a few years ago, I believe it’s four now if I remember correctly, we adopted new standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics. And, the MEAP test wasn’t really structured to assess those standards. We needed to move to a new assessment that would better assess those standards. I think the second piece of that is they wanted to begin to move to online testing, which is a real big hurdle to climb for all of us, but I think the thinking is, and I agree, over the next few years, it’s slowly going to become more and more efficient and save us more and more money doing it that way rather than doing it paper and pencil. But, the new standards were really driving the MEAP from new assessments.
Lisa LaGrou of Oakland County Moms – Is the M-STEP only for 2015?
Michael Yocum, Executive Director in Learning Services of Oakland County Schools – No, they’re going to have M-STEP next year. It’ll still be called M-STEP. But, they did a bid process and another company, it may have been the same company I’m not sure, but a second bid was locked for the test beginning the spring of 2017 and the company that won that bid was announced today. It’ll still be called M-STEP, the test itself.
Lisa LaGrou of Oakland County Moms – Will it vary at all or are they going to try to keep the test the same, and just run by different operators?
Michael Yocum, Executive Director in Learning Services of Oakland County Schools – I don’t know. All I’ve seen is the press release. So, if I had to guess… yes, things have been so volatile for public school districts. My hope is that there’s going to be some stability now, finally, but we’ll see.
Lisa LaGrou of Oakland County Moms – How does M-STEP compare to the MEAP in its content and level of difficulty?
Michael Yocum, Executive Director in Learning Services of Oakland County Schools – Not having seen it of course because nobody has taken it yet, what I would guess is that it’s going to be more rigorous. My guess is that we’ll see test scores drop because that is always the case when we have a new test. And, typically when you get a new test, part of the reason you get a new test is because they’ve raised the standards, they’ve increased the rigor and the expectations for students’ performance. I know that the standards that Michigan has now in Mathematics and English Language Arts are much higher than the standards we had four years ago before the new standards were adopted. So if they’re accurately, appropriately assessing those standards, I would assume the test would be more rigorous. Having seen some of the example items, I would say that is the case. The example items…certainly suggest it will be a more rigorous exam. The other thing I do know is there will be much more student writing in the test. And, that is a good thing in my opinion. I am not, by the way, a supporter of high stakes standardized testing. I think there are multiple problems with them, with the test and the way they’re used. Having said that, if we’re going to have these tests, let’s have good ones. Let’s have tests that actually ask students to do what we would want students to be able to do as a result of good instruction in Mathematics, English Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies. And, certainly part of that is being able to reason, to be able to give an answer and be able to defend that answer based on evidence. These assessments will ask students to do that which the MEAP test really didn’t do….That is also partly why the online tests are an advantage. You can afford to do that…If you do it online, the scoring of those is much less expensive. Now that won’t happen right away. But, it will happen over time, over the next few years you’ll see those costs decline in terms of cost per item to score.
Lisa LaGrou of Oakland County Moms – Does this test go on kids permanent records and do they hold any weight for college entrance?
Michael Yocum, Executive Director in Learning Services of Oakland County Schools – No. The ACT is. Of course that’s a college entrance test. The students still took the ACT this year. Next year they’ll of course take the SAT. Those tests of course they have obvious ramifications in terms of students getting into colleges…. What the M-STEP can do for you, but they don’t even do that very well, is sort of give you a gauge of where you are as a district. Unfortunately because of policies, both at the national and state level, it’s driving people to use these tests to evaluate schools and evaluate teachers. And, that’s a very inappropriate use of the test…. It’s unfortunate. The tests are not created in a way that you really can do that, particularly evaluating a teacher…
Lisa LaGrou of Oakland County Moms – We hear about people being upset about these tests. What are some of the reasons behind the opposition to the M-STEP?
Michael Yocum, Executive Director in Learning Services of Oakland County Schools – There are all kinds of reasons people are upset with these tests. I think that this is one of the valid reasons people get upset – that you’re doing a one time, once a year test, and somehow that’s going to evaluate a teacher. And, we know these tests are not instructionally sensitive…There are other ways you can judge whether students are learning and teachers are doing what they need to be doing, but these large-scale standardized tests are not the way to do it. So that is a very valid reason to be concerned about the test. I think the other reason…is the amount of time kids take in testing now-a-days…. to constantly be testing students isn’t the way to move learning forward.
Lisa LaGrou of Oakland County Moms – Exactly, that brings me to my last question. We’re finding that people are concerned with the class time that is spent taking these tests, learning how to take these tests, etc. Many are wondering… can someone or a parent opt out of M-STEP?
Michael Yocum, Executive Director in Learning Services of Oakland County Schools – What I can tell you is this… the parents of course are the final judgement on this. They can opt the students out by not having them in school when the test is taking place. So, if you don’t want your student taking the test, don’t send them to school during the testing period. However, now that the tests go over a long period of time, it becomes more problematic for people. A local district has no authority to opt a student out of a test. It’s the state that really is ultimately responsible for education in Michigan. It’s a state level function, and they require the testing. So when a parent comes with one of these forms that I know a lot of parents have…and they bring it to local district, the local district is in a real bind. They have no authority to honor that… It would really be helpful if parents knew that. It’s not the local district that determines this, and the only thing the district can say is you can keep them home, but I can’t tell you it’s ok not to test them.
Lisa LaGrou of Oakland County Moms – Thank you, Michael for taking the time to go over this with us and provide us with this information.
Michael Yocum, Executive Director in Learning Services of Oakland County Schools – Sure. One thing that I would say about the test that I think is important from my vantage point as somebody who cares about student learning… the one thing that is good about the test…what tests can do is create some sort of direction for instruction. So, if the tests required kids to write, teachers are going to do more writing in the classroom. That’s a good thing. That is a good outcome of better assessments. The assessments we’ve had under MEAP, for example, and some of the off-the-shelf tests that some people would like to buy because they’re cheaper – horrid. They’re horrid. It’s not what we want students doing in school because it’s not going to prepare them for life after school. If we’ve got a lot of writing going on in classrooms, and if you’ve got kids really having to explain why they did the math problem this way and why that makes sense, we’re further ahead. There’s going to be more learning going on… So, there are some good things about it…
For more info on M-STEP, call your local school district.