April 2, 2015
Following spring break, like all other school districts across Michigan, we will move to a new standardized assessment, the M-STEP.
This change to a new assessment has proven challenging in several ways as we are transitioning to this next generation of tech-based assessment amid a swirl of local, state, and national concerns about assessment in general. Naturally, we are sensitive about any new test as we want our time to be invested well and the results informative and worthwhile. While we understand that there are concerns, there are also some things that we do know to be true about assessment in Ann Arbor Public Schools and I write today to share with you our position and our expectations as we enter this time of annual standardized assessment.
Historically, Ann Arbor Public School students perform well on a variety of measures and assessments as a natural outcome of the top-quality, whole-child learning experience that we feature in our school community. Last year we saw improvements for nearly every grade and sub-group.
As we move to a more technology-based learning experience, the limitations in the multiple choice items characteristic of the previous generation of standardized assessments become more evident. The M-Step assessment gives students opportunities to work through multi-step processes and explain their answers. I am confident that over the coming years, we will all rise to the higher expectations encompassed in this new assessment which is based upon more rigorous content standards.
Certainly, we know that our children’s progress and growth are much more dynamic than the sum of their standardized assessment scores. We use multiple data points from a variety of sources to make decisions about our students’ needs as well as determine effective instructional methods. We fully recognize that an important component of student assessment is the careful observation and the support of a master teacher.
While there certainly exist differing opinions as to which assessments best serve our students and how and when they should be delivered, we ask that parents understand that administering standardized assessments is an expectation that we must fulfill in Ann Arbor Public Schools. Administering standardized assessments is a requirement of public schools, and opting out of the assessment this spring will hurt our schools and our district.
I recently had an opportunity to attend a session in Washington, D.C., with the Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education, Deborah S. Delisle, who stated, in very direct terms, that schools, districts, and states who experience ‘opt out’ that causes them to fail to achieve testing targets will be subject to sanctions. We already know that this assessment information will be used for school baseline data and other very public uses by the Michigan Department of Education as well as other agencies. She listed, specifically, loss of federal funding among the sanctions.
I am requesting that those who object to this assessment please utilize ways, outside of keeping students from testing, to express those objections. Please do not place our schools and programs at-risk through non-participation. We have a District Assessment Advisory group, established more than a year ago, that is working to formulate and inform our thinking and practice around assessment in Ann Arbor Public Schools. In addition, voicing any concerns with our elected representatives and with the Michigan Department of Education and the State Board of Education are other avenues one can leverage to send the message for change.
Certainly, it will be important for us, in moving through this spring assessment season, to observe this process carefully and share our feedback with each other and with the Michigan Department of Education. We will use what we learn from the M-Step to better understand the strengths and areas that need improvement in our curriculum, as well as in these mandated assessments.
The promise of next generation assessments is in part evolving to a more updated method of measuring student progress beyond the era of the No Child Left Behind, ‘bubble the multiple choice answer’ format, and this will be our first experience with the new online assessment tool. We need to have this experience in order to determine what we really think of this next generation of assessment.
Our AAPS team has planned well for this time that will begin following spring break. We thank our teachers and staff for the work they have done to prepare for a positive environment where our students will feel supported, engaged and will perform well.
Let us move forward together.
Thank you for your support of the Ann Arbor Public Schools,
Jeanice Kerr Swift