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Week in Review: Yet another change to M-STEP as testing stakes mount

At Gompers Elementary Middle School in Detroit, where the city health department and the Vision To Learn nonprofit announced a partnership to provide free eye exams to 5,000 children in 2016. (Photo: Detroit Public Schools Community District)
At Gompers Elementary Middle School in Detroit, where the city health department and the Vision To Learn nonprofit announced a partnership to provide free eye exams to 5,000 children in 2016. (Photo: Detroit Public Schools Community District)

Education officials are plowing ahead with plans to change the state’s standardized tests, despite concerns that Michigan’s exams have already seen too many changes in recent years.

The changes are being considered at a time of when students and their schools are facing unprecedented consequences for poor test scores. Third-graders will have to prove their reading skills to advance to the fourth grade, and schools could face closure if they can’t raise scores.

That makes changing the exams a risky proposition at a risky time. But advocates say a new kind of test could give teachers a better handle on what their students need to learn. Read on for more details, plus the rest of the week’s headlines.

M-STEP it up

State education officials say their proposal for overhauling the state’s testing system wouldn’t eliminate the M-STEP — just limit how many times students take it, to once in elementary school and once in middle school. “Think of it more as a modification,” one state official said.

Students in other years would be given a test at the beginning and at the end of the school year that would give teachers feedback they can use to drive instruction. Those tests would determine students’ ability to solve problems and think critically.

The state schools superintendent argued in an op-ed that the M-STEP has done its job of bringing Michigan out of the paper-and-pencil testing era, but says that the state now needs a new, “more useful, informative and flexible” exam.

Members of the state board of education, who will vote on the plan later this year or early next year, remain skeptical. Business groups have also launched a lobbying campaign calling for the M-STEP to continue for the sake of consistency and accountability.

But some education leaders say they support the changes. Among them: the head of an Upper Peninsula district who writes that while it’s “aggravating” to hear the state is again thinking of changing its testing program, tests that give teachers better information are a “better solution.”

In Detroit

  • The Detroit News spoke with legal experts about the prospect of the federal right-to-literacy lawsuit that was filed last month on behalf of Detroit students. One said the suit’s arguments are a “stretch” and another said the case “could be a landmark.”
  • A Virginia economics professor blasted the suit, saying Detroit students face so many impediments to educational success that poor schools can’t be explained by insufficient funding. “Here’s my prediction,” he wrote. “If the Michigan lawsuit is successful, it will line the pockets of Detroit’s teaching establishment and do absolutely nothing for black academic achievement.”
  • Many of the people vying for seats on the new Detroit Public Schools board didn’t bother to fill out questionnaires the district is using to help parents choose candidates. Responses from candidates who did respond can be read here. Other organizations — including a parent advocacy group — have also posted responses to questionnaires.
  • A columnist warns against choosing candidates based on name recognition, since some of the better-known contenders have dubious track records.
  • DPS enrollment is slightly down but stable. While that’s good news for the district, the teachers union warns that this could mean some overcrowded classes.
  • In the wake of reports that the state’s Schools of Choice program promotes racial segregation, one policy analyst offers a roadmap for desegregating Detroit schools.
  • An eastside school is the first in the city to house a new $5 million community center that will provide services to students as well as the surrounding community.
  • A suburban school board treasurer knocked the proposed $480 million school tax on Wayne County’s ballot this fall as a “wealth transfer from western Wayne County, mostly to Detroit Public Schools.”
  • A Detroit parent organizer tells a moving story about intervening with an angry student who was threatening a teacher and “realizing the pain this young man was in.”
  • A former DPS emergency manager has a new job helping to “rescue” a Virginia city.
  • This Detroit kindergarten teacher says her school has a serious rat problem.
  • Police are searching for a man who was caught on video breaking into an eastside charter school and stealing a computer.

Across the state:

  • A federal audit found cozy relationships between charter schools and their management companies in Michigan and across the country that created conflicts of interest and opened the door to fraud and waste.
  • Instead of shutting down failing charter schools, a national education researcher says the key to higher quality charter schools is better boards.
  • Gov. Snyder announced a “statewide listening tour” that will allow the public to meet with members of his 21st Century Education Commission.
  • A schools advocate says that holding teachers and principals accountable for poor performance doesn’t make much sense when the quality of the district offices is the main thing that affects student performance. “If we want to use accountability as a key lever to drive improvement in student outcomes, the system should be designed to primarily hold those who manage schools accountable,” he writes.
  • A western Michigan superintendent says the state’s tough new promotion requirements for third graders will only penalize kids. “The bill contains no substantial provisions for actually raising student reading levels by the end of the third grade, just whips and chains for students who have not yet progressed to this level,” he wrote.
  • School administrators have concerns about a bill that would expand the rights of student journalists in public high schools and universities.
  • A western Michigan school leader says a solution to the crisis undermining Michigan schools is allowing local communities to pay more for local schools. “If there’s a crisis worthy of dramatic response,” he wrote. “It’s more likely to come from parents of children in their neighborhood schools than it is from legislators and lobbyists.”

In other news:

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Extra credit

At Gompers Elementary Middle School in Detroit, where the city health department and the Vision To Learn nonprofit announced a partnership to provide free eye exams to 5,000 children in 2016. (Photo: Detroit Public Schools Community District)
The city health department and the Vision To Learn nonprofit announced a new partnership this week during an event at Gompers Elementary Middle School to provide free eye exams to 5,000 Detroit children and eyeglasses to kids who need them. (Photo: Detroit Public Schools Community District).

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