Baldwin educators react to M-STEP test

BALDWIN — After receiving mixed reviews from educators across the state, Baldwin Community Schools' administrators are weighing in on the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress which students from all over Michigan took for the first time last spring.

Designed to replace the long-standing Michigan Education Assessment test, the M-STEP is a brand new assessment aligned to a new set of standards set by the state's Department of Education. The new system's proponents say it will help drive grades up and place less pressure on students.

"Michigan has become more aggressive at preparing students for the 21st century world of work," said BCS Superintendent Stiles Simmons. "That translates to adopting a set of higher learning standards as well as an assessment to accurately measure student learning against such standards."

The district's best area was third grade math which had 52 percent of Baldwin third graders achieving an advanced or proficient level score. This is compared to the state average of only 45 percent of third graders achieving an advanced or proficient score. The district's worst results came in eleventh grade math where only 7.4 percent of Baldwin students received an advanced or proficient score, compared to the state average of 28 percent of students.

Many educators are hesitant to say how successful the new test is as it is difficult to gauge the pros and cons of the new system after only one year.

"It's too early to tell if the M-STEP is accomplishing its goals," remarked Simmons. "The state is collecting data during a three-year period which started last year to see how well the test is working and to make adjustments."

Many educators think the M-STEP is an improvement over the MEAP tests in terms of content and how well it matches their curriculums. Simmons said the new tests also mean less pressure on students.

"I think it was smart of the state to do away with the high stakes which would come from ranking school districts and including the M-STEP results as part of college admission requirements."

Calvin Patillo, Baldwin High School principal, expressed confidence in the test but said it is by no means perfect.

"A lot of my colleagues are concerned with various aspects of the test," said Patillo. "My opinion is we are in a time in education when there is a need to measure how students are measuring up and the M-STEP is one way to do that. There is no such thing as a perfect tool for doing that measuring. I think the M-STEP is effective, but I can also see where there is room for improvement."

Other educators say there are flaws in the new test. Among the complaints some educators have is the length of time it takes to receive results.

"We couldn't use the results to adjust the curriculum this year, and we got no real guidance on how to interpret the reports," said Simmons. "The students took the tests in April and May of 2015, and the district got them back in December."

There also were aspects of the test which were not completed in time for last year's testing period.

"The original plan was to make the test adaptive — the difficulties of the tests would change based on how well the students were doing — but they didn't have the time to do so, so it was a fixed test last year," said Simmons. "I don't know if they are planning on updating it to make it adaptive."

At least some of these complaints are being addressed, however. It took more than two hours per student to complete the tests according to Simmons, and the Baldwin district was far from the only district to see such long completion times. The state is working on reducing the overall length of the test in the future.