Written by: Dave Reid
Primary Source: Green and Write
As reported previously on Green & Write, Michigan’s new standardized assessment system, M-STEP, will continue through at least 2018. Currently in its first year of use, the new assessment has generated some concerns, particularly from teachers and teachers unions, regarding how reliable these assessments are and if they should be used as the measurement of student growth in teacher evaluations.
In an open letter to Governor Snyder, Steve Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association (MEA), asked that data from M-STEP not be used in teacher evaluations. Cook’s letter stems from complaints he and MEA have heard from its members after the first couple of weeks of assessing throughout the state.
Cook’s main complaint is that technology limitations are causing students to have numerous problems while taking the test and because of these problems M-STEP ultimately will not show what students know. Cook says testing is lasting all day, the M-STEP program is shutting down during testing and students and teachers are getting locked out of the test due to software and equipment errors. As Cook states, “It seemed M-STEP became an assessment of a student’s ability to manipulate the technology, and less a test of what a student learned.” School leaders have also voiced their concerns about the time consuming nature of the assessments, perhaps most strongly stated by Superintendent of Pine River Area Schools Matt Lukesaitis who said “So far, the M-STEP process is a painful invasion of teaching and learning.”
The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) disagrees with MEA about the widespread nature of the problems. MDE acknowledges there have been some isolated incidents and cases where M-STEP has not worked properly, but the percentages of students affected by these problems is very low.
As testing continues throughout the state, more questions are sure to arise about the efficiency of the system and more problems are likely to occur. This is perhaps unsurprising as new systems often face challenges. While MEA and others understand this, they simply do not think it is fair to hold teachers accountable for these challenges.
It is very possible that eventually data from M-STEP will help policymakers, schools, and teachers make more informed decisions about everything from policies to classroom instruction. However, using M-STEP in its current form, no matter how accurate the test, seems worrisome, even if MDE’s reports of only a small percentage of teachers and schools experiencing difficulties are true.
Is it Fair for Teachers?
The current high-stakes nature of teacher evaluations, including using student test scores for a part of that evaluation, means great care should be given to ensure student test scores are an accurate reflection of what students know and have learned.
In addition to the implementation problems experienced by at least some teachers, there are concerns about how accurately M-STEP will truly show what students have learned, because of the accelerated pace with which it was developed after Smarter Balanced was dropped last year.
There are many ways information from M-STEP can be used, such as for principals and teachers to plan for the future, select curriculum and evaluate instructional practice. However, because of the challenges of implementation and the accelerated pace with which the test was created and put into use it seems using data from M-STEP in teacher evaluations this year is unfair to teachers. As the state hopes to better standardized teacher evaluations and find an assessment that truly gauges how teachers are impacting student learning, waiting to use student data from M-STEP until next year seems like a reasoned decision that should be seriously considered.
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