Michigan asking feds to cancel standardized tests after year of inconsistent education

Hamtramck Public Schools Superintendent Jaleelah Ahmed thinks the only tests that schools should be focused on conducting this school year is COVID-19 tests. Ahmed is among Michigan school leaders and parents advocating for the state’s standardized tests to be canceled this year. The Detroit-area superintendent said schools should focus on […]

Hamtramck Public Schools Superintendent Jaleelah Ahmed thinks the only tests that schools should be focused on conducting this school year is COVID-19 tests.

Ahmed is among Michigan school leaders and parents advocating for the state’s standardized tests to be canceled this year. The Detroit-area superintendent said schools should focus on addressing inequities exposed by the pandemic and supporting students through this unprecedented school year.

“Overwhelming educators with meaningless assessments is going to hurt our students and put them further behind,” Ahmed said. “I don’t feel that (standardized assessments) will provide a true reflection of where students are or their learning loss.”

The Michigan Department of Education wants to cancel the annual, federally mandated state tests.

For the second time, State Superintendent Michael Rice has requested that the federal government waive standardized testing for 2021 due to the pandemic, arguing the exams cannot be administered fairly and safely while thousands of students are still at home learning remotely — many lacking consistent Internet access.

He said it would be difficult for the state to meet the requirement that 95{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} of students take the exams.

Rice requested the waiver in a letter to acting U.S. Education Secretary Phil Rosenfelt Monday, Jan. 25, citing inconsistent instructional methods between Michigan schools as one of several reasons to grant waivers from assessment and accountability requirements.

“In the spring of 2021, instructional conditions will still vary across the state in combinations of at-home, in-person, and hybrid instruction,” Rice wrote.

“Thus, the foundational conditions for summative assessment cannot be met, which means summative test results will not be reliable, comparable, generalizable, or valid for their intended purposes.”

With the novel coronavirus raging nationwide last March and schools shifting to remote learning, former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos allowed Michigan to waive standardized testing for 2019-2020. But she denied Rice’s first request in September, advising that states would not have the waiver option this year.

Related: Whitmer cries foul after DeVos mandates school testing amid pandemic

In his second request, Rice said educators should be focused on teaching and learning and providing social-emotional support to students during the COVID-19 crisis, not preparing for state tests.

“The stability and structure that we as educators take great pains to produce for our children have been disrupted throughout the school year, in spite of the significant efforts of local educators,’’ he said. “This is the time for care, connection, and support.”

Muskegon mom Dawn Johnson said standardized tests would cause unnecessary stress for students and teachers during the COVID-19 crisis.

“A lot of kids are truly struggling, and this year has already deeply affected education, mental health and physical health,” said Johnson, who has a daughter in first grade at Muskegon Public Schools. “It’d be putting more on stress kids that they aren’t prepared for.”

School leaders are split on testing this spring with a number of them advocating for standardized tests to be conducted this spring.

Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of Detroit Public Schools Community District, said school leaders can mitigate the stress levels associated with standardized tests by encouraging students to do the best they can to showcase their knowledge.

He said the tests should not be used to hold teachers and students accountable for their performance this year, but rather to collect data on how much learning loss students have suffered during the pandemic.

“I do think it’s important to know where children are at and to properly advocate for their support,” he said. “It’ll be much easier to make those justifications if we have data to show and quantify the amount of loss that we’ve seen.”

The Detroit superintendent said he thinks there is value in being able to compare the assessment data of schools across the state to see which districts have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

“I was visiting homes two weeks ago and one mother said their furnace had broke and they had no heat, so they were constantly moving between their uncle’s and grandma’s house,” he said. “So, it was hard for the students to log in for online school or even think about that because there wasn’t any consistency at home. That’s the reality of poverty, most suburban families aren’t dealing with that.”

Vitti said data from state assessments can help quantify how kids in his high poverty district, where many have struggled with virtual learning, have been impacted by the pandemic compared to wealthier districts.

The Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, or M-STEP is administered in April and May to public school students in grades 3-8 to gauge how well they are mastering English language arts, math, science and social studies. The Michigan Merit Exam assesses 11th graders on state standards.

Amber Arellano, executive director of the Education Trust-Midwest, has urged Rice to rescind the waiver request. She said canceling standardized testing will jeopardize future efforts to catch K-12 students up after the pandemic.

“It’s more important than ever to know how students have been impacted by COVID-19′s disrupted learning so that we understand how best to direct resources and supports to students and communities most in need through investments and solution-based, research-driven strategies,’’ said Arellano in a Jan. 25 statement.

The Michigan Education Association (MEA) is encouraging the U.S. Department of Education to grant the waiver request. The group then wants the Michigan Legislature to use that flexibility to let educators and students focus on teaching and learning.

“Amidst this pandemic, we simply cannot waste valuable learning time on high-stakes standardized testing, said MEA President Paula Herbart said in a Jan. 25 statement. “Mandated standardized testing like the M-STEP does not provide educators the data needed to meet individual student learning needs in real time, which is what we need to be laser focused on right now.’’

As required by state law, Herbart said benchmark assessments are being administered at the local level to help guide efforts to address student learning delays caused by the public health crisis.

Rice said in his request that he wants to prioritize benchmark assessments that measure student improvement throughout the school year.

Bay City Public Schools Superintendent Steve Bigelow said these kinds of assessments have proven to be successful in his district. Bay City uses Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessments throughout the year to gauge performance, as do many other Michigan schools.

“(Benchmark assessments) allows us to see where each individual student is when they start the school year, and we can actually track their progress throughout the year,” he said in support of the waiver. “So, if they’re falling behind, we’re actually able to see that.”

Bigelow said standardized testing only provides schools with a “snapshot” of where students are at the end of the year, which doesn’t help teachers assess a student’s growth throughout the school year.

To help you navigate this complicated school year, we’re pleased to offer you a simpler way to get all of your education news: Our new Michigan Schools: Education in the COVID Era newsletter delivered right to your inbox. To receive this newsletter, simply click here to sign up.

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