Gridlocked on change, state may bring back reviled MEAP next fall

R.J. Webber feels a little like an expectant father, except he’s been waiting for this baby for almost three years.

The Novi Community School District administrator, along with administrators, principals and teachers across the state, is waiting for the Michigan Legislature to approve teacher evaluation reforms and new standardized tests that schools are supposed to implement this fall.

If the Legislature doesn’t act soon, Michigan schools will continue to operate with a crazy quilt of more than 800 different teacher evaluation systems, using tests that are outdated and not aligned to what students are learning in classrooms.

For school officials that have to implement those reforms, time is getting short to approve new testing. That has prompted one influential House member to introduce legislation to dust off the much-criticized MEAP test for use again next year, an option that state education officials say is a nonstarter.

“We’ve been stringing along for a couple of years now,’ said Webber, assistant superintendent of academic services for Novi schools, of the legislative twists. “The uncertainty of not knowing causes anxiety and tension.”

In 2011, the Michigan Legislature passed and Gov. Rick Snyder signed teacher tenure reform that put teeth in Michigan’s notoriously weak teacher evaluation system. Teachers who repeatedly received poor teacher evaluations could be terminated. One of the elements of those evaluations would be how much students grew during the school year, measured by some form of academic testing.

In 2011, the Michigan Legislature passed teacher tenure reform that put teeth in Michigan’s notoriously weak teacher evaluation system. Almost three years later, the Legislature still hasn’t agreed on the details of how those evaluations should be conducted, or even on which test should be used to measure student growth.

Almost three years later, the Legislature still hasn’t agreed on the details of how those evaluations should be conducted, or even on which test should be used to measure student growth.

Fixing the problem is proving to be more difficult than anyone expected, even with bipartisan support for more stringent teacher evaluation.

“It’s going a little slower than expected,” said Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, a co-sponsor of teacher-evaluation legislation, here and here, introduced in January, and which remains in the House Education Committee. (Read Bridge Magazine’s report on those bills.)

“As I have spent the last three years in the Legislature, I have come to learn that no other subject is as political as education,” co-sponsor Rep. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, told Bridge in February.

“There are many education experts with research who contradict each other. Parents love their children and want the best for them. School boards debate curriculum and crunch budgets. Superintendents implement school board decisions with administrators and teachers. Add to the picture the taxpayers who want the best bang for the buck, and many have different thoughts on what that is. When looking at all the stakeholders in education, we have not even discussed athletics and other extracurriculars which can often overshadow academics.”

The continuing legislative debate hasn’t postponed a mandate in the 2011 law requiring districts to implement new teacher evaluations based in part on tests that would measure student growth. Without a statewide evaluation model, districts have created their own evaluation systems.

“It is important to underscore that in the initial year of implementation (2011-12), Michigan had over 800 unique district evaluation systems,” warned a Michigan Department of Education report on teacher evaluation reform. “This makes direct comparisons of district effectiveness ratings and systems extremely difficult, as ratings were not determined with standard rigor across districts.”

Webber, of Novi, put it more bluntly. “There is no standardized form of data that is required to be used,” Webber said. “So you have extreme variability across the state in what that looks like and what that means.”

MDE been preparing to ditch the long lamented Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) test and replace it with the new Smarter Balanced assessment for several years. Smarter Balanced has been adopted by more than 20 states in conjunction with the multi-year implementation Common Core State Standards. And unlike the MEAP, Smarter Balance is designed to measure student growth.

Last week, the House Appropriations committee stalled that changeover, with Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Brighton, adding an amendment to the education appropriations bill ordering MDE to administer the MEAP again next year, and to put out bids for an assessment test to be given to Michigan students in 2015-16.

The amendment, which in effect postpones decisions on which test Michigan will use to measure student growth for another year, was received coldly by state education officials.

“MEAP is the test we’ve been using for 40 years. It’s not only outdated, it’s also not aligned to our state standards,” said MDE spokesperson Bill DiSessa.

On Wednesday, MDE Superintendent Mike Flanagan went significantly further, declaring flatly to that MEAP “is not an option,” and that the state couldn’t return to the MEAP even if it wanted to.

"If we don't have Smarter Balanced, we won't have a test," Flanagan told MLive. "The MEAP is not an option. We couldn't even re-gear that up in time."

Beyond throwing state standardized testing into chaos, Flanagan said testing students on the MEAP next fall would also violate the state’s federal waiver from No Child Left Behind, which requires Michigan to give a test that measures student growth.

"We'll lose our waiver, we'll lose title money of about a billion dollars," Flanagan said. "I know some here think these are idle threats, but this is just the reality. We're under a federal waiver that requires a test and requires it to measure student growth."

Michigan stopped developing the MEAP in 2011, when the state began transitioning to Smarter Balanced, DiSessa noted. “Schools across Michigan have been planning and preparing for the new system, as well. Our hope is that as the budget process moves forward, we would be able to continue our current plan and schools will be able to benefit from the advantages of the new testing system.”

“As I have spent the last three years in the Legislature, I have come to learn that no other subject is as political as education.” – Rep. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, on reforming teacher evaluation

Zemke says he remains confident that teacher evaluation bills he and O’Brien helped put together in January, will become law. Those bills provide a framework for teacher evaluations, but do not address what test should be used to measure student growth. Slightly tweaked versions may be introduced this week in the House Education committee. “I believe most groups are on board (to pass the teacher evaluation bills) now,” Zemke said.

“It is time to remove politics from education and start investing time and dollars in to areas we know work,” O’Brien said. “This legislation was formed working with stakeholders and both political parties who have a desire to make Michigan education a leader in the nation.”

Webber hopes there’s a resolution soon. “We needed as a profession to be held accountable in healthy ways,” Webber said of the more demanding system for evaluating Michigan teachers. “A sound model of evaluation will improve (educational) outcomes. Give us a target that is clean and we know isn’t going to move in one or two years, and we’ll move the needle.”

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Thu, 04/24/2014 - 7:35am
When you have a dysfunctional legislature this is what happens, in the meantime they can pass legislation dealing with such serious matters as designating hiking trails as "Pure Michigan trails".
Thu, 04/24/2014 - 8:34am
Whenever I hear that old adage "Nothing is so bad that you can't make it worse" I think of our present legislature and almost everything that they do.
Thu, 04/24/2014 - 12:17pm
Too true!
Thu, 04/24/2014 - 8:59am
We know that the reason Rep. Bill Rogers stalled the Smarter Balanced test and asked for the MEAP again is because Smarter Balanced is associated with the Common Core. Bill wants to stay rigidly in line with the Tea Party talking points which hold that Common Core is a tool of the jack-booted thugs in the federal government coming to brainwash your children about socialism.
Chuck Jordan
Sun, 04/27/2014 - 2:23pm
It is not just Tea Party folks who are against the Common Core and Smarter Balanced. Trust me.
Thu, 04/24/2014 - 9:19am
This is indicative of the problem of having a term limited legislature creating education policy. Many of these legislatures simply don't have a clue about what makes education systems better. This would be like having these political committees running your business for you. Scary when you think about it.
Darryle J. Buchanan
Thu, 04/24/2014 - 9:38am
This why why we continue to lag further and further behind in educational achievement. We have legislators that do not understand educational policy hamhandedly pushing an agenda and not a plan. We can't use the MEAP, it's outdated and doesn't measure student progress. Because the state received a waiver under NCLB, we will lose BILLIONS in federal aid by doing so.
Thu, 04/24/2014 - 11:12am
It is amazing how MDE has successfully brainwashed various citizens across our State. The amendment introduced by Rep. Rogers does not indicate that our students would take the same Fall MEAP next school year as we know it. Instead, it tasks our Department of Education to provide our students with a common core aligned assessment next school year so that are students are not subject to a forced decision of accepting the Smarter Balanced as our State's Assessment. For those people who have not had their heads buried in the sand, they are aware of the major concerns associated with the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Of course, many wouldn't know that from the misinformation that our department of education continues to spread.
Tue, 08/12/2014 - 12:59am
It takes time, (try years) to create standardized evaluations/tests in order to show effective growth in academic areas aligned with Common Core or Michigan Standards. Neither the legislature (nimrods) nor employees at the MDE (ding dongs) could possibly produce this evaluation piece in a timely manner. Nobody knows what the hell they are doing or they continue to use politics to break our educational system into further turmoil, not to mention our state. It's ruining our school districts, our curriculum, teaching and learning, our students' futures. PLEASE STOP doing this to OUR KIDS. Ratings: HIGHLY INEFFECTIVE. . . you are fired!
Chuck Fellows
Thu, 04/24/2014 - 1:35pm
Dear Representative Rogers: Just cancel the testing and tell the Federal Government that we will try again next year. Or get a waiver for one year. But don't screw up our childrens' lives to satisfy poor decision making. Maybe its past time for teachers, students and parents to tell the legislature and the MDE that, "We respectfully decline to engage in your test." Period, end of story! Go ahead, close all the schools, withhold all the money, fire all the teachers and administrators because you know what, the legislature in this state is behaving ignorantly when it comes to education and is unwilling to do the really hard work of living up to their responsibilities for the Committees they are assigned to. As a result children are being harmed. I've heard or read all the testimony. It's pretty clear that when it comes to questions regarding education those in the legislature charged with educational matters are a little light on knowledge and long on pandering to "special" constitutencies. In regard to education, "Dear Legislature, you're fired!" It's about children learning, the development of nueronal connections in the brain and nervous system, imagination, creativity, and individual development. It's not about tests or accountability or efficiency or policy or adult self aggrandizing behaviors that satisfy expectations driven by an out of date worldview and atrophied knowledge. Angry? No I'm not angry. I'm enraged at the gross disregard for our children and their teachers.
Sun, 04/27/2014 - 6:35am
We will continue to test ALL kids with the paper and pencil test.. When will we accept the FACT that not all kids learn the same way.. Multiple Intelligences theory says it is not how smart you are but how you are smart. We all learn in different ways, and paper pencil doesn't automatically measure all that you know or have learned. Something as simple as not fully understanding the question can make it impossible to answer it correctly. Then there is the timing of the test and graduation requirements, Oh yes and one more thing TEST ANXIETY. Lansing,,Washington take you tests again and lets see how you do.
Chuck Jordan
Sun, 04/27/2014 - 2:31pm
It is hard to decide which is the more incompetent - the US congress in continuing NCLB, the President and Arne Duncan in forcing states into waivers and thus Common Core testing, or the State in not understanding this fiasco was coming. The best option is to slow down on the CC testing and work out the bugs. But that is not an option because Race to the Top/the Feds say it is not. Washington State just defied the Feds (as Chuck Fellows suggests we do), and we see what happens to them. In the meantime, the politicians have put schools into an impossible situation with no good options. Is it time to get politics out of education? Who put politics into education?
Mon, 04/28/2014 - 6:34am
This short-sighted, do-nothing legislature must be voted out of office this year. Michigan has become a laughingstock.
RJ Webber
Tue, 04/29/2014 - 11:32am
In reviewing the comments from readers, it appears many of them share my frustration as well...we have legislators with limited knowledge of education issues making massive decisions for our kids. I have attended multiple education committee meetings in Lansing only to walk away frustrated and feeling we can do better for our kids. I have watched legislators who owe their seats to aggressive gerrymandering (folks who were placed on third base and claim to have hit a triple) lecture those in my profession about accountability, yet have very little accountability of their own. The primary importance of data in educating our kids does not rest in using it as a measure to terminate educators. The primary importance of data in education is using it to inform our instructional decisions to improve learner outcomes. It is truly our "assessment literacy" that matters. The inaction of our legislature around educator evaluation and a statewide assessment is not helping us serve our kids. A sound educator evaluation system is based upon educator growth and assessment literacy...not simply sorting and selecting on one metric.