standardized tests

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What might the lame-duck legislative session hold for Michigan schools?

This is the time lawmakers often make a big push to pass pet bills and there are several in play right now that could mean big changes for students and teachers.

Chastity Pratt Dawsey, reporter for Bridge Magazine, and Michelle Richard, senior consultant for Public Sector Consultants, joined us today.

You can listen to our conversation with them below:


Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

You don't have to hunt too far to find critics of our schools, of the way our children are learning, what they're learning and the achievement gap within our classrooms.

There are countless ways, countless statistics that try to measure the problems. Here's just one, centered on the achievement gap. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, on 2007 standardized math exams, white fourth-graders performed better than black fourth-graders in all 46 states where results are available.

And we hear a steady drumbeat of criticism that students here in the U.S. are lagging behind their peers in other countries. When you look at standardized tests, American students rank 17th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math, which puts them behind students in Poland and Slovenia.

How much pressure should we put on individual teachers to fix these problems?

Natalie Davis, Alistair Bomphray, and Martha Curren-Preis are teachers who are all earning their Ph.D.s in education at the University of Michigan. They joined us today to discuss the issue.

Listen to the full interview above.

Alberto G. / Creative Commons

How do you best measure the progress of students in Michigan's classrooms and, by extension, the effectiveness of their teachers?

It's one of the thorniest challenges being debated in Michigan education.

For years, the Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) and the Michigan Merit Exam (MME) have been the assessment tools. Now, with the move to the Common Core Standards, it's out with the MEAP and MME and in with the what?

Districts around Michigan are gearing up for an online adaptive assessment test in the spring of 2015.

The Michigan Department of Education says the state has only one option for testing students on the Common Core State Standards for the next three years.

And that option is the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the SBA.

But state lawmakers haven't made that official.

We wondered how districts  are preparing for the SBA or whatever test they're told to administer next year.

William Heath is superintendent of the Morrice Area Schools and the principal at Morrice Junior and Senior High School located in Shiawassee County. He joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

Alberto G. / Creative Commons

The MEAP test has been used to evaluate kids and schools in Michigan for over four and a half decades.

The test is meant to make sure public schools are teaching kids the basics. But MEAP scores affect where parents decide to send their kids, neighborhood housing prices, city tax revenue, and city services.

Basically, the economics of a city rests on how well 8 and 9-year-olds perform on this single test.

State of Opportunity's Dustin Dwyer spent six weeks inside Congress Elementary in Grand Rapids, a school with consistently low MEAP scores. Dwyer followed a third-grade class as they prepared to take the test. He interviewed students, teachers, and parents, trying to figure out how much these numbers matter. What he found was, the test scores do not even begin to tell the story.

To hear the documentary now and learn more, visit the State of Opportunity website. 

Dustin Dwyer and Kimberly Springer from our State of Opportunity team share "five teasers" about the upcoming documentary on high-stakes testing. The documentary will air (and be online) this Thursday.

Here's one thing that Dwyer will explore in the documentary: How the "bad" label can harm a school in an otherwise wealthy district.

Embattled Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema is hitting back at critics of his anti-gay and anti-Muslim web postings, saying he stands on the same issues he always has, "God, family and country."

In a Facebook post, the ex-state-Representative says people are feeding half-truths to the news media within the GOP and stirring up divisiveness.

He says he's wrongly being blamed for posting other people's comments and says it's an unfortunate and uncivil tactic to tarnish his reputation.

Rick Pluta, Lansing bureau chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network and co-host of It's Just Politics, joined us today.

Lawmakers in Lansing have begun holding hearings on which standardized tests Michigan students will begin taking next spring. Goodbye Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP), hello Smarter Balanced Assessment.

Opponents say it takes away local control, while those who favor it say it better predicts a student's comprehension. We found out more about this computer-based testing on today's show.

Then, we continued on the subject of schools and asked: Are zero-tolerance policies actually keeping kids out of trouble? A new study says not so much.

And, Michigan’s University Research Corridor is making huge contributions to the state economy. We spoke with Lou Anna Simon, president of Michigan State University, to learn more.

Finally, a new documentary explores Michigan’s history with the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad.  

Alberto G. / Creative Commons

Lawmakers in Lansing have begun holding hearings on which standardized tests Michigan students will take next spring.

The state has already decided to replace the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) tests and educational officials have endorsed the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

In the coming months, you’ll likely be hearing a lot about the politics of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Some lawmakers say the test takes away control from local curriculum because it’s being developed by a national consortium.

Public Sector Consultant’s Michelle Richard joined us today to discuss the new test.

Listen to the full interview above.

Alberto G. / Creative Commons

Update: If you missed the program, you can catch the audio on this post.

Do at-risk kids have more on the line when it comes to testing? Are low expectations playing a part in poor test performance? How does the Smarter Balance test compare to the MEAP?

Alberto G. / Creative Commons

Debate is underway in Lansing over which standardized test will replace the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP). State lawmakers held their first hearing on the subject Wednesday afternoon.

At the meeting, state education officials defended their decision to endorse a computer-based test known as the Smarter Balanced Assessment. They took exception to lawmakers who questioned whether the test was chosen carefully and objectively.

Alberto G. / Creative Commons

Michigan state lawmakers are about to be put to the test.

A bill in Lansing would require members of the state board of education, the state superintendent of education, the governor, senators, and representatives to take the standardized tests normally administered to students in the third, eighth, and eleventh grades. Their results would be published online.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Department of Education released overall standardized test results for Michigan's high school students this morning.

Test results for all subjects in the Michigan Merit Examination (MME) were down slightly when compared to last year. ACT results showed a mix bag when compared to last year's results.

When looking back over the last four years, officials at the Michigan Department of Education say the test results show an "upward trend in student proficiency on both the 2013 Michigan Merit Examination (MME) and ACT college entrance exam."

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Schools might get a break on standardized tests

"The Michigan Department of Education is considering a proposal to give schools a break on standardized test accountability. The proposal would amend the department's accountability system to allow students who fail a Michigan Educational Assessment Program exam to be considered proficient on the test if they show significant improvement. The Detroit Free Press reports the change would mean some schools could get a better rating from the state," the Associated Press reports.

More money spent on TV ads for  ballot proposals than candidates

"Interest groups are spending unprecedented amounts of money on TV ads supporting or opposing initiatives to amend the state constitution. That’s according to a report from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. Since August, groups have poured about $30 million into TV ads. That’s far more than what’s being spent on individual candidates, including those running for president or US Senate," Jake Neher reports.

Asian carp search begins this week

"Federal and state officials will hunt for Asian carp near Chicago starting Tuesday, after finding more DNA evidence of the fish close to Lake Michigan. Crews will go out this week on the North Shore Channel and an area of the Chicago River," Rebecca Williams reports.

Vice President Joe Biden says Republicans have stopped believing in the concept of public education.

Biden made those comments as he rallied thousands of educators at the American Federation of Teachers’ annual convention in Detroit Sunday.

AFT union leaders strongly back President Obama. And Biden took repeated shots at Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Biden says Romney and fellow his Republicans now “have a totally different perspective” from most Americans about education—and pretty much everything else.

Alberto G. / Creative Commons

The state is launching a pilot program that’ll cover the costs of some standardized tests over the next two years. The Michigan Department of Education hopes the data from the tests will help public schools meet tougher state mandates.

About two-thirds of Michigan’s 8th and 10th graders already take the pre-ACT exams. But individual districts have to pay for them. The exams line up with state standards for graduating high school. 

The Detroit Tigers may win the American League pennant this year, and I don’t like that one bit. It reminds me, in fact, of one of the reasons that our schools are so screwed up.

If that doesn’t seem to make any sense, hang with me for a moment. First of all, I grew up a huge Tigers fan, and can still remember everything about the World Series-winning 1968 team.

But this year, while Detroit has been in first place for much of the last month, it doesn’t mean as much. The teams are divided into many divisions now, so there can be more winners.

It is likely that the second-place team in the more powerful Eastern division will end up winning more games than the first-place team in the Central. To me, that isn’t right, and means a tainted first place finish. Now, what does that have to do with our schools? Simply this. Virtually all Michigan public schools are accredited by the state.

Accreditation ought to mean some guarantee that a school is doing what it should, that you can put your child in it and  expect that he or she will get a proper education.

Provided, of course, you do your part as a parent.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Department of Education has released the results of the Michigan Merit Exam.

All Michigan high school juniors take the test in the spring to see how well-prepared they are for college. The MME tests students in reading, writing, math, science and social studies.

jdurham / morgueFILE

Education professionals from around the country met in Louisiana this week to talk about the “next generation” of student assessment tests.

More than 30 states – including Michigan – are part the Smarter Balanced Assessment Coalition, which received $176 million from the federal government to develop these new tests.

The online English and Math tests will be rolled out in 2014. The state will still use the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) and Michigan Merit Examination (MME) to test students in science and social studies, as well as students with cognitive disabilities.

Joseph Martineau is with the Michigan Department of Education and was the the National Council on Measurement in Education conference in Louisiana.

He says the new tests will not just be “end-of-year” high stakes tests. He says there will also be "interim assessments throughout the year so that people can track the progress of their students."

Martineau calls the tests "game changers" because of their focus on higher-order thinking skills:

"Things like analyzing data or synthesizing something to create an argument, or doing a project that requires you to do some problem solving while you’re doing the task. Things like that that are typically costly for us to create on a test."

The new tests will be for Michigan students in third through eighth grade, and eleventh grade.

Pilot testing will begin in 2012.

Kevin Wong / Flickr

Math - 8th Grade - Top Ten Public Schools in Average MEAP Scores

  1. Ann Arbor Public Schools - Clague Middle School    - 855
  2. Troy School District - Boulan Park Middle School     - 853.4
  3. Birmingham City School District - Birmingham Covington School - 852.8
  4. Bloomfield Hills School District - Bloomfield Hills Middle School - 849.2
  5. Bloomfield Hills School District - East Hills Middle School - 847.4
  6. (TIE) Novi Community School District - Novi Middle School & Canton Charter Academy - Canton Charter Academy - 846.8
  7. Bloomfield Hills School District - West Hills Middle School - 846.4
  8. Ann Arbor Public Schools - Forsythe Middle School - 845.9
  9. Troy School District - Smith Middle School - 845.5
  10. Saginaw City School District - Saginaw Arts And Sciences Academy - 845.4

Reading - 8th Grade – Top Ten Public Schools in Average MEAP Scores

  1. (TIE) Grand Rapids Public Schools - City Middle/High School & Birmingham City School District - Birmingham Covington School - 843.3
  2. Saginaw City School District - Saginaw Arts And Sciences Academy - 843.1
  3. Troy School District - Boulan Park Middle School - 842.9
  4. Rochester Community School District - Van Hoosen Middle School - 841.8
  5. Ann Arbor Public Schools - Clague Middle School - 840.9
  6. (TIE) Okemos Public Schools - Chippewa Middle School & Leland Public School District - Leland Public School - 840.8
  7. Birmingham City School District - Derby Middle School - 840.7
  8. Ann Arbor Public Schools - Ann Arbor Open At Mack School 840.3
  9. (TIE) Rochester Community School District - Hart Middle School & Woodland School - Woodland School - 839.9
  10. Forest Hills Public Schools - Eastern Middle School – 839

Science - 8th Grade – Top Ten Public Schools in Average MEAP Scores

  1. Martin Luther King, Jr. Education Center Academy - 882.6
  2. David Ellis Academy West - David Ellis Academy West - 864.5
  3. Woodland School - Woodland School - 848.8
  4. Troy School District - Boulan Park Middle School - 846.5
  5. Grand Rapids Public Schools - City Middle/High School - 843.1
  6. Superior Central Schools - Superior Central School - 842.5
  7. Ann Arbor Public Schools - Ann Arbor Open At Mack School - 840.6
  8. South Lyon Community Schools - Millennium Middle School - 839.5
  9. (TIE) Hudsonville Public School District - Baldwin Street Middle School & Birmingham City School District - Birmingham Covington School - 838.8
  10. Forest Hills Public Schools - Northern Hills Middle School - 838.7
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

In Grand Rapids, school administrators are marking the 6th straight year students have done better on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program. But Superintendent Bernard Taylor says that will probably not be the case next year.

“Many of the students who are proficient this year, will not be proficient next year.”

That’s because next year the state will raise the standard for what is considered a passing score on the test. State leaders say raising the scores will make sure students are prepared for college or job training after high school. Taylor is not against the change. But he says it will impact every district in Michigan, even those who haven’t really had problems meeting academic standards in the past.