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Proposed budget would cut free SAT, M-STEP tests

Apr 14, 2016

Credit Jane M Sawyer / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A budget proposal now in the state house would cut funding for free SAT testing.

The proposed $10 million cut comes from the House Appropriations Committee. If passed, schools would no longer provide each student with a college admissions test – students would have to pay to take the test elsewhere.

Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Township, chairs the School Aid Subcommittee, and said while eliminating the SAT got the most attention, his real goal is to start a discussion about replacing the M-STEP standardized testing – which the bill also removes. 

Kelly spoke talked with Michigan Radio's Stateside program on Thursday. 

"I'm looking for dialogue," he said. "I'm looking for a broader discussion on testing in Michigan."

Still, Kelly dislikes having the state pay for every 11th-grade student to take a college admission test when plenty of them don't plan on going to college.

Michigan is one of 14 states that offers a free college admission test. The state switched over to the SAT from the ACT last year. 

The way Kelly sees it, providing these tests to everyone is an unnecessary expense. Those who are college-bound can find the test themselves, he said, and there are some fee-waivers available for low-income students. 

"It's great for the college boards, great for the testing companies that they have this guaranteed income," Kelly said. "But, at the same time, are we utilizing state dollars as best we can?"

Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, opposed the bill, and was unhappy the committee moved on the proposal without much policy discussion. 

He said there are still plenty of kids in Michigan planning to take the SAT and go to college, so why deprive them of the test?

"If you want to deal with those students who aren't going to college, do that separately, but don't throw away the whole program," he said. 

Brandy Johnson agrees. She's the executive director of Michigan College Access Network, and said students prepare more for standardized tests when they're tied to college admissions.

"We know that a higher score on the ACT or the SAT can also afford opportunities like merit-based scholarships from colleges and universities," she said. 

College admission tests aside, Rep. Kelly mostly wants lawmakers to discuss testing at all grades – for Michigan, that's the M-STEP. 

This is just the second year Michigan is using the M-STEP (Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress). Before the 2014-2015 school year, schools had been using the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) for 44 years. 

Kelly said there were problems with M-STEP last year, including a lengthy waiting period before test results were returned to schools. He wants Michigan schools to use "off-the-shelf products" instead of developing its own system.

But Amber Arellano, executive director of Education Trust Midwest, said the state needs to stay the course.

The M-STEP has higher standards than the MEAP, which Arellano said means we'll see a dip in our statewide scores for a couple years; but it's worth it.

She said the states that have actually improved their education systems have raised standards and kept them high until schools met them. After a couple of shaky years, they start to see real improvement. 

She cited Massachusetts as an example: The state revamped its education system in the 1990s and is now the highest-ranked state for education in the country.

"In Massachusetts for the first three years there was a lot of anxiety. People said, 'this isn't working, this isn't working, we need to abandon it.' The state leaders said, 'No, no, no, we're staying on track,'" Arellano said. "By year five, they saw huge growth and then they never looked back. Now they're No. 1 in the country, and they're so high-performing that if Massachusetts was its own country, it'd be No. 6 in the world." 

Lawmakers will discuss Kelly's bill and standardized testing in the House next week.