Thursday, May 5, 2016

Give Michigan's Schools Flexibility in Assessment, Please

Below is the original and expanded version of my Detroit News piece:

Give Michigan Schools Flexibility in Testing, Please
By Rod Rock, Superintendent
Clarkston Community Schools

A recent Detroit News Editorial called upon state lawmakers and the Michigan Department of Education to offer stability to school systems by continuing the use of the two-year old M-STEP assessment. This would be a backward leap for Michigan’s schools and children.

Case in point: Two students I know--one is a recent high school graduate, Jake, who enrolled in Clarkston’s advanced and accelerated educational programs to achieve more than 20 college credits upon his high school graduation. Advanced Placement, accelerated math and science, hard work, and high academic achievement prepared Jake well to pursue his dreams and passions in mechanical engineering at a highly regarded and competitive university.

The other is a ninth grade student here in Clarkston, Noah, who is a brilliant welder and artist. In the shop he built with his father below his elaborate treehouse are tools that any professional welder would envy. Noah has perfected several forms of welding and is also a blacksmith and a sandblaster. He sells his artistic creations to people all over the community, who are awed by his expertise, creativity, and craftsmanship. For Noah, standardized tests, the Michigan Merit Curriculum, and limited access to career and technical education programs represent barriers in the pursuit of his dreams and passions.

In 2001, the Federal No Child Left Behind Act mandated annual standardized testing for all American students in grades three through eight and eleven. Since then, educators, parents, communities, and lawmakers have come to accept single, annual test results as the be all and end all of student potential, school accountability, and teacher effectiveness. Rarely is this mindset called into question.

For the engineering student mentioned above, standardized tests assessed performance well. But asking the second student who is equally yet uniquely brilliant, to demonstrate his knowledge on the same test is both impractical and nonsensical. Despite his vast knowledge and demonstrated aptitude, a standardized mathematical and language arts assessment cannot adequately measure his capabilities.

Standardization makes sense in several areas of life, such as bridge construction, disinfection and sterilization in healthcare facilities, traffic signage, 911 emergency systems, and water treatment. However, it does not make sense when it comes to measuring the intelligence and potential of children.

The new Federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) allows states flexibility in student assessment, teacher evaluation, and school accountability. It is incumbent upon Michigan to embrace this flexibility in order to move our educational and assessment systems into a post-standardization era. It is time that the assessments utilized to measure the intelligence and potential of future engineers, welders, dancers, civil servants, computer programmers, and neurobiological psychologists match the technological, scientific, and research advancements of the 21st Century.   

Standardized testing is the enemy of creativity and personalization. It is inaccurate and exclusionary in it its intent and capacity. In the 21st Century where innovation,critical thinking, and perseverance are at a premium, Michigan should abandon the M-STEP.

1 comment:

  1. I doubt standardized tests assessed the brilliance of the engineering student either. How far above grade level is he? The M-STEP is only adaptive within grade level. Even Smarter Balanced is adaptive to two grade levels each way. Even when my third grader out-tests eighth graders on the ACT Explore and my sixth grader out-tests juniors on the SAT, these standardized tests only give a tiny bit of information on what their capabilities are and aren't. Can they tell that my eldest daughter is an amazing artist, but perfectionism holds her back? Or that my middle daughter sees math as pictures in her head, but wants to coast through school?

    There are so many things that standardized tests can't tell us about even the kids they claim to assess.