M-STEP Press Release: “Pre-Test Technical Assistance and Simulation Look Promising”

Michigan has changed its standardized testing procedures. Now, the assessments have a new name and are online. I assume this has been quite an undertaking. However, on April 6, 2015, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) released a press release indicating all pilot programs showed favorable results.

Preliminary testing of the online assessment system, and technology readiness monitoring of school districts by the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) are helping assure that the new M-STEP statewide assessment system will operate smoothly when the eight-week testing window opens April 13.

“Our teams of technology and assessment specialists have been working with local and regional school districts to do test runs of the new online system,” said State Superintendent Mike Flanagan.  “We want to make sure that we troubleshoot and smooth out any bumps before the system goes statewide next week.  We want schools to be ready.”

Newsflash: There will still be bumps. There always is with a new system.

For those who don’t know anything about the M-STEP, the press release included a brief synopsis.

These new assessments, called the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP), will be given to students in grades 3-8 and 11 online and will measure current student knowledge and understanding of state standards for math, English language arts, science, and social studies.

Sounds easy enough. But standardized tests never are. The agony of which is the “BEST” answer in multiple choice questions will drive students nuts. Not to mention sitting in front of a computer screen for hours?? I suppose computer chairs may be slightly more comfortable than lunchroom seats or the hard plastic of a classroom chair, but boy…I sure got distracted by the fact that they could spin.

So where did all this money come from to supply every district with the technology to run these exams? The press release speaks again…

The state has invested $145 million, appropriated over the past three years in Technology Readiness Infrastructure Grants (TRIG) for education technology in Michigan.  School districts have used those grants to develop or improve their technology infrastructure, including, but not limited to, hardware and software, in preparation for the planned implementation of online assessments; and teaching and learning.

But you must be thinking…certainly not every district is ready. You are correct. In fact, about 20 % are not. But they only have through 2017 to put it off.

Eighty percent of Michigan school buildings, accounting for 83 percent of all students, are tech-ready for M-STEP, with the others using the optional paper-and-pencil option. The paper-and-pencil option will be available for schools through the Spring 2017 M-STEP administration.

I wonder what will happen if districts just say no? I meant, it’s good advice. They tell the students to say it all the time.

But I digress. The press release mentioned piloting these tests. It would make sense to pick a diverse selection of districts, you know, some wealthy, some in poverty, some rural, some suburban, some city, some large, some small…etc. It would make sense to create a pilot program representative of the whole state of Michigan. Let’s see…did they do that?

Overall, 200 school buildings and approximately 12,000 students participated in those pilot online assessments.

In an effort to help districts be as prepared as possible, MDE has been collaborating with online test delivery vendor, Data Recognition Corporation (DRC) and staff from the TRIG team with an online technology readiness initiative.

An online technology readiness diagnostic took place at 12 sites within seven Intermediate School Districts (ISDs) across the state from March 2–10. These planned visits were designed to encompass a broad spectrum of locations, technical environments, and configurations, providing a representative sample that schools could follow to configure and prepare for the Spring 2015 online assessments.

Staff worked with each site to review software setup; network configuration; hardware and testing environment setup; specific device testing and load simulations; identify potential server utilization and capacity issues; and answer various test, configuration, best practices, and security questions.

Sites included: Ingham ISD, Waverly Schools, Waterford School District, Waterford Mott High School, Detroit Public Schools, Oakland ISD, Macomb ISD, Dort Elementary School in Flint, Roseville Middle School, Charlevoix-Emmet ISD, Boyne City High School, and Boyne City Middle School.

Wait…did I miss…the WHOLE UPPER PENINSULA?? Actually, those places are the Greater Detroit Area, Lansing, and the Greater Charlevoix Area. Not such a good representation of the state there. Prediction: Problems will occur. Also, I’m sorry U.P., you seem to be a forgotten part of the state once again.

Also, I just barely caught it, but those sites were just for checking the technology readiness. Nope, they weren’t the pilot program! So then who was??

MDE also conducted an M-STEP test simulation at Birney K-8 School in Southfield with 126 students utilizing the state’s online practice test. Building-level infrastructure performance also was assessed, validating the schools ability to deliver the assessment online.  The simulation was carried out without any technical disruption.

Southfield. 126 students. Excuse me while I clean up the drink I just spit out.

Take some advice from major companies on the release day of much-anticipated video games: No matter how much beta testing you do…the servers always crash. The. Servers. Always. Crash.

So how much training will the schools and districts have? A reasonable amount. But there are still going to be teachers who will get asked a question by a student and have no answer. “Uhhhh, let me double-check with so-and-so on that.”.

Prior to the simulation, Birney school staff had familiarized students over a two-week period with the state’s Online Training Tools.  These training tools for students and teachers have been available to all schools since February 25, when the necessary testing software became available for schools to install.

Since last December, MDE has provided weekly information and updates on the 2015 M-STEP administration through its Spotlight on Student Assessment and Accountability electronic newsletter to every school district. Technology information, best practice tips, and reminders have been routinely included in that newsletter.

Schools and districts have been instructed to follow the Technology User Guide to setup their testing environments, validating the accuracy and usability of the guide.  Multiple online technology trainings and Question & Answer sessions for building and district technology staff also have been conducted by MDE.

And if a district really has a problem? There will be some support. But I bet their going to be so overwhelmed that it may not be as effective as they hope.

To assist schools and districts during the test administration window, the department has established statewide “Tiger Team” designed to quickly respond to, and support, schools and districts. The teams includes staff from: MDE, DRC, TRIG and select ISDs.  These teams will respond by phone or, depending on need, will be dispatched to school locations whenever possible throughout the state.

“Tiger Team”? Snicker Do they use the Geek Squad cars?

Okay, okay. I’m done. If you want to know when the “testing window” is, the press release ends with the following information.

To best suit school schedules and technology capabilities, districts are given the flexibility to administer grade 3-8 tests during a three-week window and grade 11 tests during the entire eight-week window.  Test windows are open from April 13 through June 5, 2015.

Michigan’s MI-Access alternate assessment can be administered on any instructional day over a seven-week period from April 13 – May 29, 2015.

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Press Release: Online Michigan Student Test System Developed for Spring 2015

unnamedNews Release

Contact:    Martin Ackley, Director of Public and Governmental Affairs, (517) 241-4395

Bill DiSessa, Spokesperson, (517) 335-6649

Michigan Student Test System Developed for Spring 2015

November 13, 2014

LANSING – Michigan’s public schools can begin moving forward in their planning for the online statewide student assessment in the Spring of 2015. The Michigan Department of Education announced today its updated assessment system, called the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP).

“This is great news for our local school districts,” said State Superintendent Mike Flanagan. “They’ve been very anxious to hear what the new assessment will be, as we developed a new test to comply with legislatively-mandated changes.”

The new assessment was required by the state legislature for the Spring 2015 testing period. The legislature also required the Department of Education to re-bid its long-term assessment system that will begin in the Spring of 2016.

The new assessment meets all of the requirements put into law by the legislature; that it be: an online assessment, with a paper-and-pencil option; aligned to the state standards; expanding writing assessments to additional grades; providing an increased number of constructed response test questions so that pupils can demonstrate higher-order skills, such as problem solving and communicating reasoning; and pilot tested before statewide implementation.

M-STEP replaces the 44-year-old MEAP test, which was not online and measured the previous state standards. The Spring 2015 assessment will include Michigan-created content, as well as content developed by the multi-state Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Educators from Michigan public schools helped develop and write test content that will appear on M-STEP.

“The changes in law diverted what the department and local school districts had been developing and preparing for over the past three years,” Flanagan said. “It put schools in some unwelcomed limbo while our experts scrambled to find testing content that met the legislative requirements.”

The assessment for Spring 2015 is a one-year stopgap until the long-term assessment is awarded through the re-bidding process.

M-STEP includes the following assessments:

  • A Spring summative assessment for grades 3-8
  • A Michigan Merit Exam (MME) for grade 11, which includes a college entrance exam; a work skills component; and a summative component aligned to Michigan content standards

This will be the first time all statewide assessments will be administered online. To help prepare, nearly 1,900 Michigan schools have performed pilot online testing over the past three and a half years. The state Legislature has invested more than $100 million over the past two years to help get local districts technology-ready for the new assessments. To date, over 80 percent of schools meet the minimum technology requirement for the new assessment.

There still will be a paper-and-pencil option for schools if they believe they are not ready with the minimal technology requirements. Districts have until November 21 to request a waiver to administer the paper/pencil test. Due to the cost concerns of preparing the separate online and paper/pencil formats, and wanting to be the best stewards of public funds, MDE will not entertain change requests beyond that November 21 deadline date.

The entire Michigan Merit Exam for the Spring of 2015 will take longer for local schools to administer due to requirements in state law.

The high school test requires additional time because the college entrance and work skills tests that Michigan currently is contracted to use, do not measure the state’s standards for English language arts and mathematics. The move to more rigorous standards requires additional types of test questions not present on those assessments. As a result, the state is required to provide additional testing to ensure state and federal laws that require measurement of the state’s standards are met.

The U.S. Department of Education (USED) has allowed a few states to get a federal flexibility waiver with afuture plan to use only a college-entrance exam like ACT. However, USED cannot waive the Michigan law that requires the state assessments be aligned to the state standards.

The majority of schools that are testing online will have greater flexibility and can configure testing, as desired, within the eight-week window the department has provided them. This provides ample opportunity for schools to plan their testing times. There will be eight partial days of testing for the paper/pencil option of the high school test in the spring. This option, which should be used only by those continuing to prepare their buildings for online testing, must continue to be spread in this fashion to assure adequate testing security.

School Accountability

MDE will be working with the USED to update Michigan’s school accountability model used in its flexibility waiver to the federal No Child Left Behind Act. These updates would recognize the changes in statewide assessments and improvements in identifying student academic growth and learning.

In these discussions with USED, it will be the Michigan Department of Education’s intent to use the test data from this transitional year for a trial run of a revised accountability system. It is the intent of the Department that the results of the trial run of accountability would be shared with schools and districts for local decision making, but that no consequences would be applied.

The Department encourages local districts to use the data to inform classroom instruction; student and school improvement planning; and local programming decisions.

Educator and Administrator Evaluations

Schools will be provided student-level growth data for use in teacher and administrator evaluations. Because these educator evaluations are still determined by local school districts, how local districts choose to use the data in the evaluations is up to each district.

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 For more information on M-STEP, log on to: http://www.michigan.gov/mstep