Local educators review M-STEP results

ONLINE TESTING: Morley Stanwood Middle School eighth-graders work on Chromebooks during a math class last January in preparation for the M-STEP. The tests are all completed online. Last year’s results were released this week. (Courtesy photo)

ONLINE TESTING: Morley Stanwood Middle School eighth-graders work on Chromebooks during a math class last January in preparation for the M-STEP. The tests are all completed online. Last year’s results were released this week. (Courtesy photo)

BIG RAPIDS — Results of the Michigan Student Test of Education Progress (M-STEP) were released this week, and the outcomes are not promising or satisfying.

Around the state, and locally as well, tremendous numbers of students are basically failing standardized testing in pretty spectacular fashion. Statewide, only 47.3 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 managed to pass the English Language Arts (ELA) portion of the test — down from last year’s results.

There was improvement in math scores statewide, but still only 37.2 percent passed the exam.

Despite the best efforts and focused intention of the Gov. Rick Snyder administration in Lansing, there actually was a drop in the number of students at the third grade level in English skills — 4 percentage points.

Locally, Mecosta County school districts logged generally average results with some areas being above state levels, and other fields of study testing below state averages.

For example, in testing third-graders for math proficiency, the highest results had Chippewa Hills and Crossroads Charter Academy at, or slightly above 51 percent proficient or advanced level.

Testing fourth-graders in science, Crossroads had the highest percentage of students with a proficient or advanced testing result, at 15 percent, which is 0.3 percent above state average.

Each of the Mecosta County school districts had their high scoring levels, and each had low points if you use this testing as a comparative study of districts.

Comparing districts is exactly and decidedly what educators do not want parents to do. If the tests are used as tools for evaluating progress within individual school districts and not as some academic competition between districts, the results are better used by all involved in the educational process, said Tonya Harrison, director of general education for the Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District.

“Our ISD district schools results show us there has been some growth and improvement, and also that there are also areas in which there is a lot of room for additional improvement,” she said.

“We should always be looking to make improvements in what we do in education. I think we should be making adjustments in our educational program after very carefully reviewing these, and any testing results.”

Harrison said she believes there were serious shortcomings with the M-STEP testing program — problems that had not been addressed since the last testing cycle — including the length and time of the test and the changes in exam procedures. Still, the general results of the 2015-16 testing cycle were a concern, she said.

“There are a lot of things which need to be considered when reviewing these tests,” she said. “One thing is sure, the results are so consistent around the state that we must recognize the scores don’t reflect on a general inability of educators in our systems to teach. They also don’t mean our students are unable to learn.

“We know better. We have exceptional teachers and educators in Michigan. People working long and hard to improve the lives of their students.

“We also have kids hungry to learn.

“And then we have tests like M-STEP. This test is a tool, but I would say it is definitely not the best tool in the box.”

Morley Stanwood Community Schools Superintendent Roger Cole agrees M-STEP is not the best evaluation “tool” available. He feels other assessments — namely the Northwest Evaluation Association Measures of Academic Progress — offer more pertinent information for the district.

“The M-STEP is less valuable to the district than the NWEA MAP test,” he said. “From a student point of view, there’s no value to the M-STEP and they know that. Kids take the NWEA and can see their results immediately. It shows where they were at last time, where they’re up and where they’re down, and what they did.”

The lack of importance attached to the M-STEP for students creates a challenge for districts when the tests are administered. Another hurdle is the nature of the test, Cole said.

“I look at the M-STEP as a snapshot in time of the kids did taking the test,” he said. “There’s a big difference between how well the kids did taking a test and how well they’re learning.”

Morley Stanwood will evaluate M-STEP scores and compare them to last year’s results to determine if there are areas of the curriculum that need to be better addressed, Cole said.

“In my opinion, the state uses this as a gauge of where schools are, and we all want good schools,” he said.

With regard to the making use of an alternative test, Michigan Department of Education State Superintendent Brian Whiston has enthusiastically noted his support for some evaluation testing other than M-STEP. Still, Whiston recently recommended sticking with M-STEP for the 2016-17 school year for logistical reasons. There have, however, been legislative suggestions throughout the current state budgeting period to cut back or even eliminate funding for M-STEP.

While Whiston has not spoke in support of one alternative test or the other, the NWEA MAP is popular because it claims to create a more personal student academic assessment geared to each student’s learning level — with testing results available for student and teacher use virtually immediately.

All of the planning for the future of M-STEP does not change the results of this year’s testing.

Some districts are better pleased and some look forward to more improvement.

Crossroads Charter Academy Superintendent Pam Duffy is satisfied with her district results.

“Student did really well,” she said. “We are very happy with the M-STEP scores. We can see the educational resources that we put into place in the last couple of years are really paying off.”

Big Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Tim Haist suggested there always is room for improvement.

“We looked at the results and looked at areas where we are doing really well and where we need some improvement,” he said. “We will continue to focus on those areas that need improvement.”

Haist also said a better tool for seeing the growth of his students is the NWEA test, which is taken in the fall, winter and spring. The NWEA test helps show how a student is doing and where they need improvement.

While reviewing Chippewa Hills School District’s M-STEP results, Superintendent Bob Grover sees both positives and negatives.

“I was pleased,” he said.

However, results for fifth through eighth grades left areas of concern, especially in regard to science, Grover said.

“We are not where we need to be with the science scores, but to be fair, the state and the MOISD averages also are low,” he said. “I think we are going to make strides in science.”

Math in third through eighth grade also was a “mixed bag,” Grover said.

For CHSD, the main use for data from the M-STEP is to identify gaps and address the problems, Grover said.

“When we see our students aren’t doing well with a certain concept on tests, we realize there is either a gap in the curriculum or a gap in the students’ learning,” he said. “Either way, we need to fix it.”

And indeed, the districts will try their best to fix things, said Harrison.

“Our teachers and educators take these results very seriously, while also recognizing the weaknesses in the testing process,” she said.

“Teachers talk about these results. As educators we ask ‘What can we do better?’

“I believe we need to look around the ISD and search out the best practices — look for not only what is not working well, but also find what methods are answering our students’ needs best.

“Tests such as M-STEP help us do that.

“Despite our disappointments, we need to use these results to generate positive progress and improvement.”

Pioneer staffers Jim Crees, Candy Allan, Emily Grove-Davis and Meghan Haas all contributed to this report.

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