M-STEP Debuts, Some Opt Out

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Tamela Jones's daughter is a good test taker and a straight-A student.

But she's annoyed with the M-STEP, Michigan's new standardized test, which this year replaces the MEAP.

"She comes home very frustrated, especially this year, with the computer problems and the fact that she's going to have to sit through ten hours of testing and the computers don't work," said Jones. "It's eating into time where they should be learning and that's what I have a problem with."

So Jones has pulled her daughter out of the exam, which is administered during a three-week window, and plans to do the same in the coming months when students who miss the test are pulled from class to make it up.

Schools must have 95 percent participation, or risk losing funding and ratings points, as per the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Jones is one of only three parents to opt her daughter out of the test, according to numbers obtained by News 10. Other local school districts report similarly low numbers, including some where none have opted out.

Her daughter took the MEAP in years past and participates in other standardized tests. And while the M-STEP makes no difference in a student's grade, Jones says she's making a statement by keeping her out.

"I don't send my daughter to school to doodle, I send her to learn," she said. "And unfortunately is that parents don't realize they have the chance to push back against the system and say that enough is enough and they're over-testing."

The M-STEP is designed to measure a school's performance and adherence to the state's curriculum.

"There's always going to be a buzz about standardized assessments because in America we have that question of whether we're over-testing our students," said Ruth Riddle, Holt's executive director of curriculum and staff development. "I think the buzz will die down as we get used to this new method of assessing our students."

Riddle says the district has worked hard to bring its teachers, parents and students up to speed on the new test. The teachers went through special training, and Riddle says they are prepared.

"Our primary focus, I think with all schools, is about our children and how well they're doing," she said. "We care about their social and emotional well-being. So I think no matter what mandates come to us, we consider the needs of our students."

This year, participation is the focus for schools. Poor results will not have the same consequences as years past, as the state looks to transition to yet another exam in the future.

Unlike the MEAP, which was a traditional pencil-and-paper exam, the M-STEP is given online in nearly every school.

That's good, Explorer Elementary School Principal Adam Spina says, because the results can be obtained quickly. But it also can create problems.

"One thing I do worry about somewhat is the validity of the data," he said. "Is it showing what students know on Common Core data or is it showing the issues they might have adjusting to that type of interface?"

Plus, the data from the MEAP doesn't necessarily translate to the results from M-STEP, Spina said, which makes it hard to measure growth.

But in the end, Spina says the curriculum being assessed has been integrated into classrooms for years.

"The standards have no adjustment," he said. "We've been teaching to those standards for several years. There are some differences: some of the questions and the way they're posed, the types of features you see on the assessment, those are slightly different than what we've used in the past and what our students have seen. Those are things that we prepared for this year."

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