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:

“14 Things that are obsolete in 21st century schools”

The following article was published by Ingvi Hrannar Ómarsson, an Icelandic elementary teacher & Entrepreneur, on his blog,

Palisades Charter High School “Answering Machine Message”

Have you ever seen this forward floating around and wished you could put the same message on your school machine…even for just one day?

“Hello! You have reached the automated answering service of your school. In order to assist you in connecting the right staff member, please listen to all your options before making a selection:

“To lie about why your child is absent– Press 1

“To make excuses for why your child did not do his work – Press 2

“To complain about what we do – Press 3

“To swear at staff members – Press 4

“To ask why you didn’t get information that was already enclosed in your newsletter and several fliers mailed to you – Press 5

“If you want us to raise your child – Press 6

“If you want to reach out and touch, slap or hit someone – Press 7

“To request another teacher for the third time this year – Press 8

“To complain about bus transportation – Press 9

“To complain about school lunches – Press 0

“If you realize this is the real world and your child must be accountable and responsible for his/her own behavior, class work, homework, and that it’s not the teachers’ fault for your child’s lack of effort: Hang up and have a nice day!”

It seems so ballsy that it just can’t be true…right?


The message never actually went on the school’s answering service (in 2002 the school did not have touch tone capabilities), but the joke did originate at the school for very real reasons.  Springtime…California….ocean…mountains…and a whole lot of unexcused absences.  The school made a policy to crack down on the sleeping in and the “it’s too nice to go to school, it’s a Beach Day”.  A large number of students failed and parents went wailing to the school board (sound familiar?).  Someone at the school wrote the joke to help ease the tension and frustrations of the staff.  It not only struck a chord with the staff, but with administrators and teachers everywhere.

For more information on the policy and message:

Blair, Julie.   “LAUSD Orders Charter School to Scrap Its Attendance Policy.”    Education Week.  27 March 2002. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <>

“ Pacific Palisades High School Answering Machine Message.” Ed. Barbara Mikkelson and David P. Mikkelson. Urban Legends Reference Pages, 9 July 2009. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <>.

F in Exams

F in Exams coverSometimes, as a teacher, you just want to give points for a wrong answer because it’s just so creative or ludicrous that you feel they really will need those couple of points.

Describe the shape and structure of the Milky Way.
It’s kind of like a long, bumpy rectangle.  It’s completely covered in milk chocolate, but inside there are two delicious layers: chocolaty nougat and caramel.

Explain the saying: Some people don’t look up until they are flat on their backs.
Some people can’t look up because something has happened to their necks.  For example, if a person gets kicked in the neck by a kung-fu midget, they will not be able to look up.

Upon ascending the throne the first thing Queen Elizabeth II did was to…
Sit down

Summarize the major events of the Cold War.
It started off by someone throwing an ice cream & then someone threw a popsicle back.

At first, I laughed.  Then, I laughed so hard I began to cry.  And then I became concerned for the human race.

expand_2x+yIt is possible this book is fiction.  No one could be that stupid.  Right?

Fact: There are half a dozen to a dozen fonts that look like handwriting in the book.  Fact: Except for a few crossed out answers, all words are spelled correctly.  Fact: The copyright page does not state the book is a work of fiction (conversely, it does not state it is non-fiction either).  Fact:  It is found in the humor section of the bookstore.

Could they really be real answers?

Change 7/8 to a decimal.

Steve is driving his car.  He is traveling at 60 feet/second and the speed limit is 40mph.  Is Steve speeding?
He could find out by checking his speedometer.

What does “terminal illness” mean?
When you become ill at the airport.

What is a vacuum?
Something my mom says I should use more often.

Fiction.  The human race can’t really be this stupid.

State two major world religions.
1. The force in Star Wars2. Football

Summarize the key developments in the Industrial Revolution.
Industry revolted

Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?
At the bottom.

In either case, I know at least one of them is true…

Explain the process of “learning”.
A process by which information goes in one ear and out of the other.

F in Exams: The Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers is authored by Richard Benson and is available at bookstores, Amazon, and on Kindle.

“Fact-checking attacks on Common Core school standards”

This article was written by Cara Fitzpatrick, Amy Sherman, Jeffrey S. Solochek and originally published on Monday, October 21st, 2013 at 6:01 a.m. on PolitiFact.

It seems many people know about what Common Core is and isn’t. However, many people have not actually explored some of these claims, simply reiterated something they heard, adding their own two cents or interpretation. Unfortunately, this has led to a game of telephone.

As states surge toward full implementation of Common Core State Standards for public schools, the din is rising from some fronts to pull back.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott, whose tea party base offers perhaps the most strident opposition, is listening. In open forums Scott requested last week, people stepped forward to give their views. Criticism ranged from what’s taught in English class all the way to conspiracy theories involving iris scans.

PolitiFact Florida reviewed comments from the hearings and found that several of the most dramatic criticisms aren’t backed up by the facts. Here is a brief review of some of their findings. (See individual reports for more details.)

Common Core refers to a set of national education standards adopted by 45 states, including Florida. They came out of years of discussion between private nonprofit groups and state education departments.

The goal: to better prepare students for college and careers and ensure that students in different states learn the same academic concepts.

The Obama administration has used its education grant process, Race to the Top, to encourage states to use the new standards, but no state is required to adhere to Common Core.


One frequent complaint at the hearings is that teachers were not involved in developing the standards.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative, the official group that organizes the standards, says that’s not the case.

We wanted more evidence, so we talked to teachers who actually participated in the process.

Becky Pittard, a Volusia County elementary math teacher, served on a team that developed math standards. She said she was puzzled by any suggestion that teachers were left out.

“I can tell you the equal sign standard is there because I insisted,” she said, referring to a first-grade guideline on understanding the meaning of the symbol. “There was impact.”

Many states assembled teams of teachers to review the new standards, including Florida. Deputy chancellor Mary Jane Tappen sent an email to selected teachers in November 2009 expressly for that purpose.

“You are receiving this email because you are a trusted and respected expert in your field,” Tappen wrote. “Florida must provide input on this very first drafty draft of the Common Core National Standards by December 4. … I will be collecting and compiling all our work into one Florida response.”

PolitiFact Florida rated the claim that teachers weren’t involved in creating the standards as False.


Another claim: Common Core standards will dramatically increase the amount of personal information the federal government collects.

“There are over 300 data elements the government is going to be collecting about your children and about you,” Tim Curtis, an activist with the tea party group 9/12, said in Tampa.

His claim has a kernel of truth: Florida requires school districts to keep student information. Some of it is required by the state, while other elements are optional, or only kept at the local level, such as bus stop numbers. The list includes students’ race, test scores, attendance and many more factors.

But those requirements have existed for decades — long before Common Core came along. States collect the data to help them make decisions.

The U.S. Department of Education has routine access to some data, but that data is aggregated and stripped of personally identifiable information.

In fact, laws predating Common Core prohibit a federal database of personally identifiable information on students.

“Florida has no plans to change the data it collects that is linked to Common Core,” said Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters.

We told Curtis that multiple educational experts said Common Core doesn’t require new data collection.

“I can shoot that claim down with a single explanation,” Curtis said. “The Polk County school district began to do iris screening on school children and they did so without notifying their parents. They did so as a result of the beginning of the implementation of Common Core.”

According to the Florida Department of Education, the screening was intended to route children onto the proper bus and wasn’t related to Common Core.

We rated the claim that Common Core means 300 points of data being collected as Mostly False.


Another criticism of Common Core is that it will reduce the reading of fiction and literature.

“Common Core expects English teachers to spend at least half of their reading instructional time at every grade level on informational texts,” said Sandra Stotsky, an education professor at the University of Arkansas and staunch critic of the Common Core. Stotsky didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Common Core standards do emphasize informational texts, particularly in history, social studies, science, and other technical subjects.

And news reports suggest that English teachers are using more informational texts in their classrooms as they move to the Common Core. An Oct. 15 story in The Hechinger Report found one teacher replaced the novel The Great Gatsby, with a memoir, The Glass Castle.

However, the idea that English teachers must spend half their time on informational texts misreads the standards.

Common Core follows a framework that spells out percentages of literary versus informational texts by grade level. It calls for a 50 percent/50 percent split in grade four, with an increasing emphasis on informational texts in later grades. In grade 12, the split is 30 percent/70 percent.

But those percentages are meant to reflect the sum of student reading, not just in English.

To meet the 30 percent threshold for literary reading at grade 12, an English teacher would have to focus on stories, novels and plays, said Timothy Shanahan, a retired education professor and a member of the English Language Arts Work Team for the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

PolitiFact Florida rated the claim that English teachers must spend half their time on informational texts as False.


One of the most dramatic claims we found against Common Core came from published materials from the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition. The standards aim “to instill federally determined attitudes and mindsets in students including political and religious beliefs,” states a report on the group’s website.

We found nothing in the standards that suggested any level of government was telling students what political or religious beliefs they should personally hold.

So what evidence do the critics have for saying the Common Core will instill political and religious beliefs?

The coalition’s report zeroes in on lists of hundreds of data elements a school district might keep on its students. The report linked to a screen grab it created of data elements from the National Education Data Model.

The list shown includes “voting status” and “religious consideration” and “religious affiliation.”

But this is not a required list of data for all states or school districts to collect.

So why are the fields on voting and religion even there?

We interviewed Alexander Jackl, chief architect of Choice Solutions, Inc., an education data software company. He’s also one of the original authors of the National Education Data Model.

The data fields are all optional, and the fields for religion are useful for private, religious schools, he said.

We contacted several Florida school districts to ask if they collect data on voting status, political affiliation or religious affiliations, or if they plan to start doing that with Common Core. They all said no.

The Florida Department of Education does not require school districts to ask about those subjects and has no plan to do so under Common Core, Etters said.

So the evidence — a computer model that has a data field for voting status or religion, typically used by a private school — is a far cry from the federal government attempting to instill particular religious or political beliefs. We rate this Pants on Fire!

US Government Shutdown & Education

While individual policies have differed, at the core of education reform is one basic element: Improve the education system so that the next generation can contribute the most it can to its community, to the world, and to humanity as a whole.

We’ve improved the curriculum. We’ve revised the textbooks. We’ve increased the requirements for new teachers. We’ve trimmed the teaching force to obtain the cream of the crop. We’ve demanded excellency and college degrees from students. We’ve added new programs to reduce conflict and encourage collaboration. We’ve thrown money at schools and threatened to take it away if some schools didn’t fall in line. We’ve–

Wait, back up a sentence. “We’ve added more programs to reduce conflict and encourage collaboration.” Back up one more sentence. “We’ve demanded excellency and college degrees from students.”

Why, then, if Congress is forcing the next generation to be better, are they not being held accountable for their lack of excellency, their lack of conflict resolution, and their lack of collaboration?

I’m pretty sure among their studies was the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have done onto you.”

The world is changing. We have changed the way we teach in order to better prepare the next generation for a world we can hardly imagine. If Congress cannot get its act together the way it is now, perhaps it should swallow a giant dose of its own medicine and follow in the footsteps of the path they have forced education to forge.

Congress either needs to learn to “play nice” and to “get along” or it needs to change.

Guest Post: Paper or Technology?

Guest Post
Written By: Bill Lester

For the longest time teachers have been able to teach without using technology.  The “old-school” strategies were simply chalk and a blackboard, but with the advancement in the technology that we use for entertainment outside of the classroom we have surpassed, technology is having a negative effect on the learning process that is taking place.  Learning is harder when you have to unplug from technology and entertainment to listen to a lecture.  One of the many arguments in education is whether or not we should add technology to our teaching styles.  Some teachers feel that education has gone along without it for so long that students should still be able to learn without computers.  Others feel that the amount of technology that they may have to use at their future jobs means that we might as well get them use to working with it at a young age.  Both opinions have a great point.  On one hand, teaching without technology provides students with the hard skills of communication and collaboration with others that they will need in the work place.  On the technology side, most business today is done on a computer in which the consumer and producer never met or even speak to each other, so they should be well prepared with skills needed to handle the technology.  The arguments could go on all day on which strategy should be used more than another.  Why not try both?  Why not switch up strategies with the same lesson depending on the class?  Perhaps give students the choice of hand written or typed?

In my experience teaching in the United States, the Dominican Republic, Kenya, South Korea, Austria, Switzerland, and France, I have found that no classroom is the same from day to day.  Some classes work great with technology, while others work better when they put pen to paper.  Just like each teacher teaches differently, each student learns differently.  I’ve taught some classes using nothing but technology.  I have taught many classes using only pencil and paper.  I have even attempted to teach a few classes where no notes are taken and the whole class is spoken and then assessed.  The most helpful part is reflecting on what did and did not work, and then mixing together everything that worked to hopefully produce the best possible lesson plan.  Whether you decide to teach with paper or electronics, make sure that you are a leader, your students should be a reflection of who you are.  In the end we want to give students the appropriate skills that they will need to be successful.  So make sure that you are leading them in the right direction and if you aren’t sure how to do that, I’m sure you become a student yourself and study how to be a leader.

The Great Gun Debate

When I was little we had fire drills and tornado drills.  I knew stop, drop, and roll.  I reminded my parents to changed the batteries in the fire alarms in the house every spring and fall when the time changed.  I knew the sound of tornado sirens, and if I heard them at any time other than 1:00pm on the first Saturday of the month, I knew to go the basement, to shield my head and to stay away from glass.  Those were the only drills a kid in suburban Michigan needed.

I was in the 7th grade in April 1999.  I knew exactly what happened.  I was in 10th grade in September 2001.  I watched the second tower fall, live on CNN.  The words “code green”, “code yellow”, and “code red” took on new meanings.  I saw the news coverage; I saw young children taking their parents’ guns to school.  “Zero tolerance” became the go to reason for expulsion.

I was a junior in college when a gunman killed students at Virgina Tech.  Just this past summer, I had come back from a cruise with my mom and the first news we hear after docking in Miami, FL, was the movie theater shootings in Aurora, CO.  Even more recent, as I begun my student teaching, I heard from a student that there was a school shooting that morning in Connecticut.  Within minutes of turning on the TV I learned about Newtown, CT, and Sandy Hook Elementary.

Each mass shooting has been tragic.  It has devastated the friends and family of the victims as well as the shooter, the community in which it took place, and an entire nation.

With each shooting comes a reexamination of safety protocols.  Everyone asks themselves, “Are we doing enough?  What can we do to prevent this from happening again?”

The National Rife Association’s Chief Executive Officer, Wayne La Pierre thinks we need armed guards in ever school in order to protect “our children”.  In fact, his exact quote was, “If it’s crazy to call for armed officers in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy.”

Okay.  I shall call you Crazy from now on.

I will give you only partial credit for standing up and advocating that something needs to be done.  However, it is impossible to prevent school shootings.  Education is what needs to be done.  Ignoring the issues and slapping a “band-aid” of more guns will not foster a better tomorrow.

Why, you ask?  Good question, let me explain.  First, why armed guards will not prevent school massacres and then, why education is the something that needs to be done.

“Fear begets anger. Anger begets hate. Hate begets violence. Violence begets bloodshed. Bloodshed begets…fear,” said Cornelius T.Zen [in the comments].  Stationing armed guards at every public school in America will teach kids to fear going to school.  Stationing armed guards at every public school in America will teach kids that someone wants them dead, and that they are not safe without a gun. This will lead to more kids bringing guns to school, not less.  More guns=more armed guards.  How many “the gun accidentally went off” excuses will there need be before the guns get removed from school?

And if you really think an armed guard will prevent students from bringing guns to school…you really need to go visit a high school.  Students will bring a fake gun (or even a real one) to school to really test what the armed guards will do.  I would not be surprised to hear of some students who would attempt to disarm the armed guards.

Who will be liable if a guard shoots someone who they felt was a threat but actually wasn’t?  The school district?  The city?  The state?  And even if the guards were within their right to shoot a student who attempted to disarm a guard and take the gun, wouldn’t that still be portrayed as “tragedy at a school”?  Wouldn’t the next question be, “wasn’t there something else that could have been done before lethal force?”

You see, as adults, we are able to think clearly about being “properly trained and licensed”.  But high school kids?  They like to break rules.  They like to test them out, see which ones they like.  Students will smile and try to convince you to accept homework a day late because they “forgot” even though your policy is “I will not accept late homework assignments”.  They will ask you to make an exception for them.  Just look at statistics…how many youths under the age of 21 are arrested for drinking alcohol?  Drug possession?  Driving without a license?  A policy isn’t that meaningful.

Additionally, who will pay for these armed guards outside every public school?  The armed guards will only be able to protect the public schools because the federal, state, and local governments cannot force private schools to have armed guards.  There are numerous districts in Michigan that have so little money that they have outsourced bus drivers, kitchen staff, custodial staff, substitute teachers, and security.  By forcing them to pay for armed guards, you will be forcing districts to eliminate teachers or resources which leads to not-so-good education or students.  And in case you haven’t heard, we already have an “education problem” in the United States.

Lastly, how will having stationed armed guards during school hours prevent a terrorist from building bombs and blowing up schools?  A person who is determined to cause havoc will just adapt to the new circumstances.  School shootings will still occur.  Mall shootings will still occur.

Education is what will reduce the occurrence of school shootings.  I don’t mean the “guns can kill people” or “guns are bad” type of education.  I mean a good, solid education where people are supported by those around them.  When a person has access to the knowledge they seek, whether it is “how to be a marksman” or signs of mental illness, an education means people are not cast aside.  If you know someone who has an interest in guns, don’t avoid the subject or the person.  Show the person that you care about them and what they like.  Ask them questions, take them to a shooting range or a gun show.  The answer “you can’t” is so much more powerful than “you can”. And remember, if you have concerns, share them with someone.

Hindsight is 20/20, and the last thing we need is to look back after a tragedy and implement new laws that don’t address the underlying issue.