On Monday, the state will debut the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress. It’s not just a new, more challenging exam. It’s a whole new way of taking a state exam. For the first time, it’ll be given online.
All that newness has some people nervous. And some parents, concerned about what they view as too much testing going on in schools, are letting their kids sit out the exam.
But set aside all that anxiety. The test is happening, starting this week with students in grades five, eight and 11, and continuing with other grades over the course of the next eight weeks. Here, we’ve compiled a handy guide to help you understand the test and make sure your kids are prepared, based on tips from educators.
What does that mean for the exam? It’s going to be more difficult for most kids. Think fewer multiple choice questions (and fewer opportunities to score a lucky guess) and a lot more open-ended questions that force kids to demonstrate their learning. Your kids will have to display their critical thinking skills in ways they haven’t had to before. As a result, when scores are released, don’t be surprised if your once high-scoring child is now just average — or worse. If that happens, don’t panic. It’s a function of the higher standards.
Become familiar with the new format: It’s an online test, so that means it’ll be interactive. Students will be required to do things like type in answers to some questions, plot data on a graph, click and drag information, highlight text in a passage, draw shapes and listen to a presentation, then answer questions. There is also a performance task for math and English language arts tests, which require students to complete an in-depth project during the course of the exam that demonstrates their analytical and problem-solving skills.
Know whether your school is online or paper-pencil: Nearly 20% of schools that aren’t technologically ready will use a standard paper-and-pencil exam.
Dial back the fear: Talk to your kids about the test. Make sure they know it’ll be more challenging. But make sure they understand it’s just one test and thus just a snapshot in time. Educators look at multiple pieces of evidence, including classroom work and classroom assessments, to get a fuller picture of a student’s academic progress. Schools should not be using scores from the state exam to determine whether a child is promoted, held back or able to graduate. Urge your child to simply do his or her best on the test.
Take a test drive: OK, so it’s not the real thing. But the Michigan Department of Education has released some sample items — questions that are reflective of the kinds of things kids will experience on the test. Polly Siecinski, supervisor of assessment, testing and accountability for Southfield Public Schools — and a former teacher — said it can help relieve anxiety for some kids. But she warns it could increase anxiety for others. That’s why it’s important for parents “to really know their child and know what works for their child.”
You’ll need to use the Google Chrome Web browser to see the sample questions: https://wbte.drcedirect.com/MI/portals/mi/ott1. Click on “sample item sets.”
Read directions carefully: Make sure your child understands how important it is to thoroughly read the instructions for each question, and follow them. One question, for instance, might require the student to do multiple things and missing one of those steps could be the difference between getting it right or wrong.
Some things are just basic: Make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep the day before the exam and has a nutritious breakfast the day of the test.
Is your school ready?: Lots can go wrong when more than 80% of the schools are testing online. The MDE has been monitoring this, working with schools to ensure they’re ready. That includes a simulation done recently at Birney K-8 School in Southfield, where 126 students filled three computer labs to see what happens when a large number of students tries to access the software to take the state exam. Siecinski said the simulation went well. “Nobody’s computer crashed. The server didn’t crash. We kind of really pushed the boundaries. I was really pleased.”
Why is this important for parents? “If technology fails, students can get frustrated, teachers can get frustrated. And then it causes pauses and delays in testing time.”
Know when your child will be tested: Schools will be testing kids at various points over the next eight weeks. Kids in grades five and eight can be tested any time between Monday and May 1. Grades four and seven will be tested between April 27 and May 15. Grades three and six will be tested between May 18 and June 5. High school juniors can be tested between Monday and June 5. If your child has been identified as requiring special education services and takes an alternative exam, testing can happen between Monday and May 29.
Prepare for a new test next year: This test is a short-timer. It’ll only stick around for one year, thanks to mandates from the Legislature. A new test, which will also be called M-STEP, will debut in 2016. Expect it to be similar, since the state is sticking with the same vendors that helped produce this year’s test.
Contact Lori Higgins: 313-222-6651, firstname.lastname@example.org or @LoriAHiggins