Battle in Michigan schools over need for standardized tests this year

In the midst of a pandemic and economic crisis, Republicans and Democrats in Lansing are fighting over … standardized tests.

Republicans and Democrats are fighting over whether Michigan students should take standardized tests during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

A series of school reopening bills passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in Lansing Wednesday includes a requirement for at least some standardized tests. Those bills now move to the Senate.

Bills introduced earlier in the day by Democrats in the House and Senate recommend a one-year reprieve from the tests, including the state’s major assessment, the M-STEP.

Because Republicans control both the House and Senate, the Democrat-sponsored bills are unlikely to move forward.

The M-STEP was cancelled this spring after Michigan’s K-12 public and private schools were closed to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus, with homebound students receiving instruction online or through printed packets.

The state requested and received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education from requirements that schools offer standardized assessments to students during the 2019-20 school year. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants a similar waiver for the 2020-21 school year, and State Superintendent Michael Rice has requested it.

“We are still in the midst of a pandemic and, therefore, are still supportive of waivers of these federal assessment requirements, in addition to a suspension of the testing requirements in state law, including but not limited to those associated with teacher and administrator evaluations, and school accountability,” Rice told Bridge in June.

Many school leaders also oppose testing in the coming year. Superintendents of six large intermediate school districts wrote a letter to Rice and Whitmer in June asking that they cancel standardized testing for 2020-21.

“Every educator's first and foremost priority will be to work with students individually, assess their needs and help them readjust to in-person learning,” the letter said. “Standardized testing only provides a snapshot of a student’s performance on a single test and will in no way assist teachers, parents and students with day-to-day instructional needs in the upcoming school year.”

Standardized tests are required by federal law, and are used to assess the educational progress of students, as well as the performance of teachers, schools and states. The M-STEP allows comparisons between schools and student groups in Michigan. Another test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, allows comparisons between students in different states.

Without testing, families, schools and the state will have less ability to measure how much students are learning. 

The Republican school reopening plan allows more “e-learning” days, in which students would learn online rather than in classrooms, but also requires students in kindergarten through fifth grade to receive face-to-face instruction, which many families oppose as do most Democrats.

The package would require schools to administer at least one benchmark assessment test in the first 30 days of the upcoming school year. Tests would be required for students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and would measure proficiency in reading and math.

That kind of testing is typically done in Michigan schools, with those assessments used to identify students who need additional academic support.

Bill sponsors Pamela Hornberger, R-Chesterfield Township, and Andrea Schroeder, R-Independence Township, did not return requests for comment.  Beth DeShone of the conservative Great Lakes Education Project, said the learning loss that likely occurred from students being away from classrooms for almost six months makes those tests even more important.

“We believe that parents, students and teachers deserve to know what, if any, learning loss happened while schools were shuttered this spring,” DeShone  told Bridge in an email about the Republican proposal requiring tests. 

“One important way to measure that is through benchmark assessments for all students as soon as school resumes. The information provided can help parents and teachers navigate learning and lesson plans accordingly for students.”

But critics of testing note that most students take multiple tests over the school year that take away up to several weeks of academic instruction, and that this year it’s more important than ever for teachers to devote more of their time to instruction because of larger-than-normal learning loss.

In an average year, most Michigan students take a lot of assessments. For example, in Holt Public Schools in Ingham County, third-graders had taken four tests measuring reading level by mid-October of 2019. “The tests never end,” Holt third-grade teacher Michale Adams told Bridge last year.

Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent Jeanice Swift told Bridge she expects it will take three years for students to fully catch up from the academic loss caused by the pandemic. Swift said she supports a one-year pause on standardized testing. 

Testing has become a partisan line in the sand in Michigan, with Republicans generally in favor of testing. In Michigan, test results are also used in teacher and school evaluations, and to determine if third-graders should be retained if they are poor readers. 

Democrats, on the other hand, are generally suspect of standardized tests as a measure of academic success, and oppose tests that are high stakes for teachers (meaning, that they would factor into their annual reviews) but have no stakes for students. Teacher unions, a powerful backer of (mostly) Democratic candidates, also have been critical of the time demands the tests impose on classrooms and their link to performance evaluations. 

“Our students don’t need to spend days upon end in front of computers taking state and federally mandated tests,” Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, said Wednesday. “Not to mention, that social distancing recommendations may vastly reduce testing classroom and computer lab space, so that testing time could double or even quadruple.”

GLEP’s DeShone disagreed.  

“The Return to Learn bills are common sense steps that should provide peace of mind to everyone and will ensure that the system that couldn’t pivot swiftly to support students and teachers two years in a row due to weather and then the pandemic will finally have more tools in the toolbox to get it right the next time.”

Robert McCann, executive director of the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education, a school advocacy group, said testing “certainly shouldn’t be (a partisan issue) because right now we need everyone focused on what's best for students. “In the best of times, standardized testing is a tool that gets misused.”

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middle of the mit
Thu, 07/23/2020 - 11:21pm

Conservatives, wanting standardized testing? Ha ha ha ha ha!!!!

[[[In general, conservatives would support a bottom-up approach, and these standards would be local and statewide based. Applying the concepts of federalism should apply to education, just as it should for most government-related agencies. Local school districts should have the greatest power to determine effective and acceptable standards without interference from the heavy hand of either a large bureaucratic federal government or unions. Common Core is designed to be a national standards program but is disguised as a "voluntary" program.]]]

[[[There is so much in school that gets in the way of academics. Photos, fire drills, pep rallies, field days (field trips can be educational), fundraising, and missing school for sports all cut into the academic curricula, which is why schools exist in the first place. And now we have standardized testing, an extra burden for the administration, the teachers, and the students. It does little for student learning, and it interrupts the syllabus. There are classes spent on test preparation, then the actual test days themselves. Teachers teach two curricula now, one for the students based on true education, and another one based on test-taking to satisfy state testing standards. And the latter has priority over the former. Should a student miss standardized testing, class time is sacrificed for making up the test. Teachers are being forced to serve two masters: the old master of good curricula and the new master of standardized testing. When it comes to really imparting knowledge, the new master is the one we despise.

And why is this done? Do schools really think, “Let us do standardized testing in order to compare our performance with other schools”? Of course not. It is done because it is mandated. Laws, rules, mandates, and pressures from above deem these tests necessary. And, let us recognize that money drives standardized testing. Politicians must spend time fundraising for re-election campaigns, for politics today is driven by special interest groups. Is standardized testing another fundraising campaign? ]]]

Ha ha ha ha!!!!!

Your voters may not remember or care about what your philosophy is..........but that is it!

Why can't you pick ONE message and stick with it?


Kevin Grand
Fri, 07/24/2020 - 7:29am

"Standardized tests are required by federal law, and are used to assess the educational progress of students, as well as the performance of teachers, schools and states. The M-STEP allows comparisons between schools and student groups in Michigan. Another test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, allows comparisons between students in different states.

Without testing, families, schools and the state will have less ability to measure how much students are learning. "

This should have been placed at the VERY BEGINNING of the article, and not buried in the middle of it.

Ironic how much the democrats are HUGE proponents of testing everything else, but when it comes to education, they are the loudest opponents.

Please remind me again who is a significant contributor to the democrat party?

Bob Balwinski
Fri, 07/24/2020 - 10:01am

Kevin, speaking from experience and reading of research, the only testing of value is pre and post testing. You find out what the students know at the beginning of the year and test and the end to see if you, as a teacher, had any impact. I worked in a summer program with this philosophy of testing and it worked well. A years educational growth after a year of teaching was the goal.
Kevin, I know I only spent 40 years in education and you probably spent more than that so your opinion may be more valid.

Fri, 07/24/2020 - 8:33am

Common sense would dictate that students be tested within the first few days of their return to school, if only to assess to what degree and for which students the pivot to online / remote learning succeeded. A level of sense uncommon in educational settings would use the results of the assessments to re-group the returning students into classes based on their mastery of the knowledge and skills required at last year's grade level. Given the current state of emergency and the changes to long-standing routines that will be required in schools to prevent spreading disease, narrowing the spread of skills and knowledge would simplify lesson planning and allow teachers to better support the learning needs of their students.

If the usual 10 to 12 week summer vacation typically results in loss of the last month to three months of learning for many students, how will the nearly 6 months in which schools have been closed have affected them? Teachers, parents, and administrators need to know, especially if those test results reveal that most students learned little or nothing during the period of remote instruction. Pretending that the existing achievement gap has vanished due to the pandemic is foolish, especially considering the many alarmed essays from Chalkbeat, Education Trust Midwest, and others pointing out how school shutdowns were likely to exacerbate educational inequalities. This needn't take weeks - far too many schools turn their standardized testing into a time-consuming circus of prep and pep rallies. An hour, or one class period per core subject should do it, and IMO it doesn't have to be a standardized test per se. However, the assessment instrument used in each school should be the same for all classes at each grade level to allow the teachers and principal to assess the effectiveness of their remote learning efforts between March and June.

Sat, 07/25/2020 - 7:26am

I agree with Anita. Keep the testing simple and brief. Please look at it as a pre-tests and post-test.

Fri, 07/24/2020 - 3:31pm

Standardized testing doesn't matter, ever. Test Trump, thinks he's a stable genius because he passed a dementia test! LOL He should take the SAT, this time, instead of paying someone else to do it?