M-STEP Assessment in Ann Arbor Public Schools

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


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  1. I expect Ann Arbor, as a model district, as an education leader, to stand up to the testing bullies, just as I am happy it has stood up to the gun bullies. Standardized testing has been proven time and again to have little merit outside of enriching corporations and giving those who wish to destroy public education a cudgel to do so. In Ann Arbor we know how to educate our kids; we do not need mandated tests that waste valuable resources and actual learning time. As parents, opting out is the ONLY option we have to strike back. If the district cannot support us in this as individuals, so be it. But the district needs to lead the fight against testing in the larger public discourse.

  2. I find it very, very sad that we know these tests are designed to rank schools, evaluate teachers and cause undue stress on children and still the district is promoting this as a real piece of Education Reform. We have examples from around the country which prove what High Stakes testing has done to public school. Please educate yourself on the realities of the MStep before making any decision and know that nationally there has NEVER been any funding loss to “title@ monies. That is not to say Mi could not be made an example but it is highly unlikely. Please see New York, the NYSUT, Florida and Colorado and it will be a glimpse in to a sad future for public school. I, would implore Dr.Swift to “think outside the box” and find a meaningful alternative or to stand up for ALL education communities. This will not promote the “Excellence” of AAPS.

  3. I’m interested in hearing more about the assessment advisory committees discussions and decisions–has there been a report issued? Can you post it? If there are tests that must be given, what is getting cut out? Have there been recommendations on that? It is not only the issues with individual tests like the M-STEP, it is also the issue of the total amount of time that is devoted to testing. What about practice testing? Can we cut that out? All of the tests and practice tests cut significantly into the time for interesting and innovative curriculum and learning, particularly in grades 3-8. So if you can: a) share the assessment committee’s report and b) identify what tests and practice tests you are proposing to CUT, that would be great.

  4. Thank you Dr Swift for acknowledging that there is more to learning and school than a standardized test. Thank you for acknowledging the importance of quality teachers. So grateful that YOU understand what kids are about. They are not just a year score but whole human beings.

  5. Dr. Swift thank you for leading our district through such tumultuous times with such courage. We need you to be courageous on the testing issue as well. The M-Step testing is nothing short of perverse and devastating to our children. Why is it OK to test 3rd graders for 7+hours? Why is it OK to test 4th and 5th graders for 8 hours and 40 minutes or more? If parents knew the truth, who could allow that to happen to their child? In addition, I cannot fathom the amount of time wasted that could be used for authentic learning. WE, parents, teachers, and administrators have to stop this destruction to our child’s education, our public schools, and our future. Lead the way Dr. Swift, show us that Ann Arbor CAN be different. We will support you all the way but we refuse to abide to corporations, state and federal governments telling us that our children need to be tested in an abusive manner. By the way, the definition for RIGOR is this: the difficult and unpleasant conditions or experiences that are associated with something. Is the education we want for our children?

  6. Dr. Swift, every time I have met you, I’ve been impressed by your listening and leadership skills. I admire many things you have already done for our district. I am unfamiliar with the extent of your influence and power when it comes to standardized testing. I do want you to know that there is a lot of resistance to the over-testing and high-stakes testing that we are seeing these days. My hope is that the listening skills you have displayed will be used, and the concerned parents in Ann Arbor will be heard. Standardized testing has gotten out of hand, and we don’t want to be part of it.

  7. As a commenter already said, opting out is really the only way to try and change the culture here. Last year my kids were used by the district (if I understand correctly, the district got $10 a head) to pilot the common balanced assessment. They spent hours doing this. This year, 2 of my daughter’s last 3 weeks as a sixth grader will be spent taking the MSTEP, minimally 7 hours each week (a math lesson that the teacher gives to the children and then two days of 3 hours each for the testing and then repeat the same for language arts). A total of minimally 14 hours spent on this test (do parents realize this?). This test, that can not be compared to last years or next years! What is the purpose of this test? Stop the unnecessary testing. Someone needs to stand up. If not you, then me. And I will opt to have my child not take the MSTEP.

  8. I am more concerned about my kids having a sensible school start time so they can be ready for classes and testing when necessary. When will this conversation be continued? The positive results are out there for all to read from Dr. Kyla Wahlstrom at University of Minnesota. Kids who start school later do better in school and are safer drivers and less stressed and/or depressed. We need to put learning first – not sports and after school jobs.

  9. The fact that you keep up with the research and continue to put our children first safety wise and academically is all I need . Just make certain that both are used over all situations – including teachers who refuse to do the same .

  10. It is apparent by the tone of this article that the author believes students are there to serve the interests of the schools, rather than schools functioning to serve the students. We need to cut ties with federal $$, and return to state-sovereign education.

  11. Schools are hired by taxpayers to educate our children. Parents are in charge of their children. Schools and corporations and the government are overstepping. Parents must refuse these poorly made and bias tests and take their rightful position in education – at the top. OUR CHILDREN ARE NOT FOR SALE. The standards are not higher in the end – many are forced on kids at inapropriate ages to give the appearance of higher standards. All of this is child abuse and the end goal of global standards under UNESCO – funded in large part by Gates and out very own tax dollars is SICK!

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