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Michigan standardized tests may be put on ice this year due to coronavirus

Michigan’s top school officials sent a letter to U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday, asking for a waiver from federal regulations requiring standardized accountability tests, such as Michigan’s M-STEP.

“When we return to school, the focus should be on tending to children’s immediate needs: physical, socioemotional and academic,” wrote State Superintendent Michael Rice and State Board of Education President Casandra Ulbrich. 

“In many cases, children will have experienced trauma. In other cases, they will simply need to be reacclimated into their schools. In all cases, students will have missed instruction, and this lost instruction will render any conclusions about test results dubious, especially any comparisons across school years and in light of the pending public health concerns of parents, students, and staff.”

You can read the full letter here.

Michigan asked to cancel the tests Friday, and was told by the U.S. Department of Education that they could only be canceled if the school closure period overlapped the testing period. Michigan schools are currently slated to reopen April 6, and M-STEP testing begins April 13. Tuesday’s letter is a request for a waiver from that policy.

The M-STEP is given to public school students in grades 3-8. It is used to track how school districts are performing compared with other state districts, as part of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, and in Michigan it is also used as a factor in teacher evaluations.

The stakes of the M-STEP are higher this year for third-graders, who, for the first time, could be flagged for repeating third grade if their reading scores show they are more than a grade behind, under a state law that is to take effect this year. 

The closure over the coronavirus outbreak means third-graders will have missed three weeks of intensive reading preparation for the M-STEP.

Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, took to social media Tuesday to throw her support behind the cancellation of tests completely, or, at minimum, a one-year delay on the third-grade retention portion of the state’s “read-or-flunk” law.

“We must also eliminate the 3rd grade reading law retention piece and student growth portion of teachers’ evaluations for this school year as state test results will not accurately reflect student learning due to weeks of lost instruction,” Polehanki, a former teacher, wrote on Twitter.

“It’s time for Betsy DeVos to do the right thing on behalf of our students and waive statewide assessments,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement endorsing the letter to DeVos. “When our kids get back to school, our number one priority must be ensuring they have the resources they need to get back on track.”

Michigan Democrats, including Whitmer, have generally opposed holding students back under the third-grade reading law, which was passed by Republicans in Lansing under the Snyder administration. Many Democrats, who draw heavy campaign support from teachers’ unions, have also been skeptical of tying teacher job evaluations to student performance on standardized tests.

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