Education Secretary Betsy DeVos arrives for an event called "Kids First: Getting America's Children Safely Back to School" in the State Dining room of the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Donald Trump
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos arrives for an event called "Kids First: Getting America's Children Safely Back to School" in the State Dining room of the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Even in the best of times, a standardized test is “a juggernaut of draining money from schools,” says a former Michigan Teacher of the Year.

MICHIGAN — With some schools meeting in person, others continuing online and yet more taking a hybrid approach, Michigan’s school reengagement is tailored to each individual district’s priorities. That non-standard experience will still be subject to standardized testing, however. 

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos notified Michigan State Superintendent Michael Rice that students in the state will be expected to take the M-STEP in the spring regardless of the state of the pandemic. 

The M-STEP (Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress) is the successor to the former MEAP test (Michigan Educational Assessment Program test), a standardized test used to assess both students and schools using a several-day multi-subject series of exams.

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“It is now our expectation that states will, in the interest of students, administer summative assessments during the 2020-2021 school year,” DeVos wrote in a letter to state superintendents across the country. “There is broad and consistent support for assessments because there is general agreement among the public that a student’s achievement should be measured, that parents deserve to know how their children are performing, and that it should be no secret how a school’s performance as a whole compares to other schools.”

Standardized testing has largely been criticized for promoting outdated models of rote memorization and requiring teachers focus on what will be on the test rather than skills development. That criticism was echoed by former Michigan Teacher of the Year June Teisan on Stateside

Teisan pointed out that these problems are more egregious when talking about investing in carrying out a standardized test during a pandemic when, as The ‘Gander reported, decades of disinvestment in education have left schools cash-strapped when facing a major paradigm shift on health and safety.

Moreover, teaching to those tests will be an added strain when combating the learning loss caused by the pandemic. 

“This is a juggernaut of draining money from schools,” Teisan said. “Money that could be spent right now in these difficult financial times much more appropriately.”

READ MORE: Michigan Teachers: Without Federal Funding We’re Not Going to Be Able to Reopen Safely

She was also concerned about the practicality of executing a standardized test in a year where the form classrooms take is far from standard. With some schools in-person and others online, the protocols for those tests will be different, making the tests themselves, to some degree, different.

Tests like the M-STEP are designed to be taken in a traditional setting, with a large number of students physically together in a room with a proctor overseeing the testing. Teisan isn’t sure if that’s possible to emulate online. 

And as state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) told The ‘Gander, educators in her district are already concerned about parents inappropriately influencing the performance of students on remote assessments. 

Pohutsky has, throughout her time in Lansing, given voice to educators with causes like securing funding for schools in need, modernizing the curriculum, and co-sponsored a bill to simplify and standardize access to kindergarten across the state.

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It isn’t like the M-STEP is the only means to assess students either, Pohutsky pointed out. There already will be some form of assessment, even without the M-STEP. But Pohutsky is concerned that even those tests will be used to penalize schools for not meeting expectations in a time of unique stresses and burdens on the education system. 

“I have not spoken to a single school district that is not planning to do some type of baseline assessment anyway,” she told The ‘Gander. “What these bills did with that baseline assessment did, though … [is] requiring that aggregate data go to the state.”

And whether it’s those learning loss baseline assessments or the M-STEP, the potential for districts to suffer as a result of a very unusual and challenging year remains a concern for Michigan educators.