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Opinion: Teachers need student data. That’s why the M-STEP is important

While schools are closed for summer break, school leaders and teachers are looking ahead to the 2021-22 school year. Educators like me are making plans to get our students back on track academically and address the unfinished learning caused by months of COVID-19 related school closures and interruptions. Once again, teachers are facing the unknown.

Gina Wilson
Gina Wilson is the math department chair and teaches high school math at the Early College Alliance at Eastern Michigan University. (Courtesy photo)

A recent study from McKinsey indicates that students, on average, could experience up to five to nine months of unfinished learning as a result of the pandemic-impacted 2020-21 school year, while students of color could experience between six and 12 months of unfinished learning.

Few could have predicted how hard COVID-19 would hit and how it would disrupt the education system, but the results are not surprising to youth advocates. I saw them happen in real time.

I have witnessed students care for younger siblings during class time. I have listened to and problem-solved with students who were worried about their families’ basic needs. I have helped students get caught up after attending multiple funerals in the same week for family members lost to COVID-19. While some students have benefited from virtual learning, many have suffered due to a lack of infrastructure that affected districts’ and schools’ abilities to provide high-quality virtual learning as well as our society’s structure that disrupts community support.

I have also seen the differences in responses between schools when Michigan switched to virtual learning at the beginning of the pandemic. Some schools maintained learning by distributing devices within a week and immediately hosting virtual classes at all grade levels. In contrast, other schools delayed instruction for more than six weeks as devices were distributed and logistics worked out.

There are still so many unknown factors about the pandemic’s impact on student learning. That’s why Michigan’s end-of-year tests (the M-STEP) administered in the spring were so important this year – and why so many teachers advocated for them to continue despite the difficulties in administering them. Many of us understand that while the data will be incomplete, the results will be one more tool to help inform instructional decisions moving forward.

I think about the number of students who spent the majority of the last school year in classrooms being taught by substitutes or non-teaching staff, including my daughter, whose teacher left due to the impacts of the pandemic. I want teachers of these students next year to have as much data as possible to create effective learning environments. I want to know how severe the disruption to learning really was because I suspect we will be addressing the effects for years. I want to know what we, as a society, are going to do to fix this.

Teachers operate on data – on a macro and micro level. I collect data from my students daily – whether it is about their understanding of math content, who had breakfast that morning, who got in a disagreement with their family, who met a personal milestone, or who showed a deep understanding of content in another class. I use this data to make instructional decisions during class, office hours, and when planning instruction. I also use data from assessments, including written tests created by me, computer-generated tests, discussions during office hours and during class, and questions asked by my students.

State standardized testing – which in Michigan is the M-STEP – is one more form of data I can use. These assessments give me a comparable picture of student learning against grade-level standards with students across a state, and this is even more critical this year with the likelihood of more students changing schools due to pandemic-induced housing insecurity.

The end-of-year state assessments provide more information to help me make sense of my students’ learning next year when I transform back into the learning sleuth and problem-solver I am during the school year. When the test results come out next month – however incomplete they are – let’s take the data and use it to find and address gaps in our students’ learning. We can use this opportunity to redesign instruction in Michigan so that students are provided high-quality, student-centered instruction to enable them to not only complete the learning that was disrupted last year but to soar into the future with even more knowledge.

To be clear, designing instruction for next year will be more challenging than usual because we also must address the devastating emotional impacts that the pandemic has had on so many children and adolescents. Teachers across Michigan need as much support and information as we can get to tackle this job. Our students will benefit in the long run.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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