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Schools in Dark on MEAP

Ohanian Comment: Here's one thing that happens when standardized tests become high stake: teachers are not allowed to keep a copy of the test questions--so they can see what might have caused large numbers of kids to miss a particular question. This puts enormous faith in the hands of the test producer: nobody allowed to examine and/or dispute their questions.

Michigan teachers are still waiting for the results of last winter's MEAP test -- information they need to determine how to improve student learning.

The scores -- delayed by technical glitches for months -- determine which schools fail to meet academic standards prescribed by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Michigan has 760 such schools, all of which face penalties under the law.

With five months between the tests and results, "the opportunity for districts to respond . . . is seriously impacted," said Gayle Green, an assistant superintendent in the Macomb Intermediate School District.

Last week, schools were told they won't get the elementary and middle school scores until Aug. 4. The scores will be released publicly Aug. 15, according to a memo from state Superintendent Tom Watkins to school administrators.

The state Department of Treasury, which administers the test, planned to release scores to schools in late May or early June.

"Clearly, it gives the schools less time to analyze the scores and make any adjustments they would make based on the scores," said Terry Stanton, Treasury spokesman.

He blamed the delay on problems creating a database that will allow the state to track individual student performance and link those scores to factors such as gender, race, special education status and English language fluency. Local school administrators also need to verify the demographic data.

"It's the implementation of the software that it takes to do that that is taking much longer than we expected. We're not pleased with the time line," Stanton said.

The contractor, Enterprises Computing Services of Atlanta, received $1.6 million from Michigan to create the software and to complete an earlier project. Ideally, the scores would have come before the end of the last school year, allowing teachers time to analyze the scores, said David Vultaggio, director of management information systems with the Waterford School District.

The wait may not be the most frustrating thing for school administrators. Changes in the way the state gives schools an analysis of how students scored is seen as an even greater problem.

Michigan used to give an item-by-item analysis showing teachers what percentage of their students chose each answer's option.

Because they were able to keep a copy of the MEAP test booklet, they could go back to the test, see the question, and look for reasons students scored poorly.

"That's always been what schools found useful," said Ernie Bauer, testing consultant for Oakland Schools, the county's intermediate school district.

This year, though, schools couldn't keep a test booklet.

"That way, we're certain no one is teaching to the test," Stanton said.

And instead of a detailed analysis, schools will get an analysis showing how students performed against broad standards.

"It will be different than it has been in the past, but hopefully the schools will find it just as useful," Stanton said.

But some educators say an analysis telling them how well students met certain standards won't tell them much. The detailed analysis helped identify inadequacies in their curriculum, they said.

"What you could do was look at a test item and say, 'We know we taught this. Why in the world are they getting this wrong?' " Green said.

When Green was an administrator in Willow Run Community Schools, an easy math question -- what percentage of a grid was not shaded -- seemed to stump a large number of students. More than half got it wrong.

Green said by going back to the test booklet, educators saw that the wording -- asking about the portion not shaded -- confused the students not used to questions framed that way.

"We started making sure it was asked in both ways. The next time it was on the test, our kids aced it," Green said.

— Lori Higgins
Schools in Dark on Meap Delay in scoring hampers analysis, educators say
Detroit Free Press
July 21, 2003


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