This is an excerpt from a column I wrote for Dome Magazine, which was based on an earlier politicscentral.org blog post.
Another year, another disastrous round of test scores by Michigan K-12 students across the state and across all grades who were tested.
While state Department of Education officials prefer to emphasize the “modest gains” buried within the 2019 results from the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP), the bigger picture remains grim.
A majority of all elementary and middle school kids tested – those in grades 3 through 7 – failed the M-STEP exam in English (reading and writing). That means they failed to receive a “proficient” score that would indicate they sufficiently knew the material on the test.
Michigan’s 11th grade, pre-college SAT scores in reading and writing and mathematics showed declines. Some 55 percent of the high school juniors who took the test in March scored at a “college ready” level in English language arts, while just 36 percent reached an acceptable outcome in math.
Yet, here is what State Schools Superintendent Michal Rice said about the newest scores: “We appreciate the gains made this year in our early grades. Focus and attention on early childhood education and early literacy are beginning to bear fruit, and continued efforts in these areas will keep Michigan moving forward.”
Education officials managed to put a happy face on the M-STEP, taken by students last spring, by cherry picking certain aspects of the results. For example, they avoided the big picture and instead emphasized those “modest gains” in English scores for 3rd and 4th graders, as well as a slight uptick for math results in 3rd, 5th and 6th grade.
‘Snow days’ lead to failing test scores?
What’s more, officials tried to blame the poor scores statewide on severe winter weather in northern Michigan that resulted in an average of 11 snow days last school year, with 144 districts being closed 14 days or more. But those school districts represent less than one-fourth of Michigan districts, and most are rather tiny school systems located in the northern Lower Peninsula and the U.P.
Over time, skittish state lawmakers have contributed to Michigan’s rapid slide toward mediocrity in K-12 education by revamping the statewide test several times over the past decade. That inconsistency shatters the basic concept behind standardized testing, which is to track the relative progress of students year by year, grade by grade. Instead, the Legislature has created an apples-and-oranges world of test score analysis.
And Lansing still cannot seem to learn its lessons, as this year’s M-STEP science test was cancelled while the Education Department is reconfiguring the exam to better represent a new science curriculum introduced statewide. Science has been the area where Michigan students have fared worst in recent years.
Next up is how to deal with a new state law that requires educators to hold back 3rd graders who cannot sufficiently read at their grade level. That could potentially mean forcing more than 50,000 kids to repeat the third grade. But one Education Department official said that local school superintendents would be given enough “wiggle room” to avoid 3rd grade retention for most students, despite the poor M-STEP scores.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of Michigan students, from Lansing to Alpena, from Kalamazoo to Kalkaska, failed at least one section of the 2019 M-STEP. (School-by-school scores are available at www.MISchoolData.org.)
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