Monday begins Michigan’s annual six-week testing season that will help determine how successfully public schools have educated children this school year. The results of the various assessments can influence college admissions, teacher evaluations, and whether third-graders are promoted.
Here are some answers to questions parents may have about the assessments.
Which children will be tested, and when?
Grades three through seven will take English, math, science and social studies M-STEP assessments.
Students in eighth through 10th grades take the PSAT. Eighth graders also must take M-STEP science and social studies exams.
High school juniors take the Michigan Merit Exam, which comprises four tests: the SAT, the ACT WorkKeys test of job skills, and the M-STEP science and social studies assessment.
For juniors, that amounts to about nine hours of testing, but that could change for future 11th graders, who could get a reprieve from two parts of the merit exam. The Michigan House passed separate bills ending requirements for juniors to take WorkKeys and the essay portion of the SAT. The bills await action by the Senate. Approval and the governor’s signature would reduce test time by more than three hours.
M-STEP exam dates vary by district. The state testing schedule requires them to be administered by May 20, except third grade English, which must be given by May 6. Check school district websites for local testing dates.
The SAT and PSAT are to be administered to all students on the same day: Wednesday, April 13. That’s a switch from previous years when those tests were administered on a Tuesday. The state made the change to give schools extra preparation time after spring break.
The change bumps ACT WorkKeys, an 11th grade test of job skills, to Thursday, April 14.
Does my child need a No. 2 pencil?
M-STEP exams are computer-based. That means students in grades seven and below can leave their pencils at home.
For now, those in grades eight and nine still need No. 2 pencils for the PSAT, and 11th graders need them for the SAT. The College Board is transitioning to computerized testing starting next year, with tests administered abroad. Students in the U.S. can expect to take computer-based tests beginning in 2024.
What about a calculator?
Calculators are not required or allowed for most tests.
They are allowed for portions of the sixth and seventh grade math tests and are embedded in the software and appear alongside test questions so student’s needn’t bring physical devices.
Calculators are optional for fifth and eighth grade science M-STEPs. Fifth graders are permitted to use basic four-function calculators while eighth graders may use scientific calculators. Some districts provide them. Local schools can provide guidance on whether fifth and eighth graders should bring their own.
What are the stakes?
The stakes are particularly high for third graders. Under a controversial state law that went into effect during the 2019-20 school year, third graders whose test results show that they are more than one grade level behind in reading can be forced to repeat the grade. The law gives superintendents wide discretion to make exceptions for individual students, and many have.
For high school juniors and seniors, results of the SAT could be a factor in college admissions, although fewer colleges require them for applicants. And the PSAT serves as both practice for the SAT and as a qualifier for the National Merit Scholarship competition, which awards scholarships to college-bound seniors.
The stakes can also be high for teachers and administrators.
Test scores are among the factors used in annual teacher evaluations that guide staffing decisions, professional development plans, and compensation in districts that give merit raises.
This year’s test results will also guide decisions about the next cohort of partnership districts under the state’s turnaround program for low-performing schools. Partnership schools, selected every three years, get extra resources from the state but they’re also subject to extra scrutiny.
What about students who attend school online?
All tests must be taken in person. Public online charter schools set up physical testing centers around the state and use schedules similar to traditional public schools’.
Students temporarily learning at home because of COVID diagnoses or quarantines can make up the tests at school later in the testing window.
How can I help my children prepare?
A good night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast will help. So will talking to children about what to expect on test day and asking teachers to suggest activities you can do at home to reinforce skills that will be tested.
Should I worry if my child says the M-STEP was too hard?
No. Software adjusts the difficulty level based on previous responses. Questions get progressively harder for students who answer correctly and easier for those struggling.
Researchers say such computer-adaptive testing provides precise results using fewer test items. It challenges high achievers without discouraging low performers, and both groups try harder on adaptive tests than on traditional ones, researchers say.
When will I get results?
Parents can expect to receive individual student scores at the end of August. It takes several months for auditors to ensure reliability and validity, and for reports to be printed and distributed.
What if I have more questions?
Your child’s teacher is the best source of information on tests and helping your child prepare for them. You can also view the Michigan Department of Education’s tip sheet for parents, its Guide to State Assessments, or its guidance on the Michigan Merit Exam, which comprises the 11th grade SAT, ACT WorkKeys, and M-STEP tests.
This report was based on interviews and information provided by the Michigan Department of Education, the Michigan Assessment Consortium, the Michigan Council for Social Studies, the Michigan Council for History Education, the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, Michigan Connections Academy charter school, and the West Michigan Talent Triangle, an advocacy consortium representing Kent, Muskegon, and Ottawa schools.
Tracie Mauriello covers state education policy for Chalkbeat Detroit and Bridge Michigan. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.