WKAR Features
12:00 am
Tue December 13, 2011

Lansing educators prepare for higher test standards

LANSING, MI –

Michigan educators are raising the bar on the state's public school students. In the past, students could answer fewer than half the questions correctly on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program, or MEAP, and still earn a "proficient" rating. Those scores arrives next March. And this time, students will need to get an average of about two-thirds right. Ericka Harris is the Lansing School District's interim chief academic officer. She tells WKAR's Mark Bashore that she doesn't think the higher standards will result in significantly more Lansing students rated "not proficient."

ERICKA HARRIS: If you look at what they're asking students to be able to do, they only need to know 65% of the material. Our goal is to push kids to know 80 to 90 to 100% of the material. And so we're look at what we're doing as a way of moving kids forward consistently and not just for the MEAP test.

MARK BASHORE: Still, in the past, students could be considered proficient if, in some cases, if they answered fewer than half of the questions correctly. So the bar is being raised, right?

HARRIS: Oh yes. The bar needs to go up because we need to require students to be able to show and do more. What I'm anticipating is--where we've had kids showing 100% proficiency--that they will continue to show the 100% proficiency because they know the material.

BASHORE: What about the students who have just been clearing the bar up until now though?

HARRIS: What we've always tried to do is be pro-active and so we have placed interventions there. Our extended day programs, our RTI initiative--which is the Response to Intervention that we talked about the last time--all those things are put in place to support kids who may need a little bit more support.

BASHORE: Lansing is already a seriously challenged district when it comes to standardized testing. To cite one example--at Sexton High School, out of 127 juniors who took the 2010 Michigan Merit Exam, 95 did not meet proficiency in math. And those are the old standards that are now being toughened. How is the district preparing for this?

HARRIS: Well part of what happens is when you guys look at the information, you look at the entire group of students. We kind of de-segregated the data to pull it out to see how the students are doing who are with us a full academic year. Those numbers are vastly different. We are trying our best to support those students who are coming and going and moving in and moving out, but when we look at what we are doing with our core group of kids, our core is strong. We've got 62.4% of our kids who tested out as proficient at math at Sexton High School.

BASHORE: But do you think the state will take into consideration these higher percentages of transient students when it assesses the overall health of the Lansing School District?

HARRIS: Well, AYP-- Adequate Yearly Progress--is based on kids that have been there for the full academic year. However, when the MEAP scores are initially released, they show all students. So what the state looks at and what happens in the media are two different things.

BASHORE: Still, assuming a decline in scores, what is the most noticeable impact of that going to be? Does that mean fewer kids being accepted to college? Does it mean more remediation?

HARRIS: Well the wonderful thing about a one-snap picture of what kids can do is that most colleges are looking for other measures. And so they're not just going to look at just the MEAP score. They're going to look at their transcripts, they're going to look at their SAT scores, they're going to look at other pieces of data. Last year, we had over 100-plus kids who were 3.5 or better as Seniors graduating so they were part of "3.5 Honors." And so we were very proud of those kids. Those kids have gone on to school most of them have--and some of them are doing pretty well.

BASHORE: I don't think anyone doubts the efforts are ongoing to help students with school as much as possible, but in the end, how concerned are you about the higher cut scores?

HARRIS: I honestly am not as concerned as the media is pushing it to be. The state has consistently, over the years, said that these scores are going to rise. For us to say that all of a sudden, it was like, 'Oh no, we didn't know this was coming' would be false. My biggest concern is that we need to make sure that kids are prepared for college, for life. Do I want all of our buildings to make AYP? Yes. But I'm also concerned that what we do instructionally is where the rubber hits the road. And so when I look at that one snapshot and what we're trying to do here is (to) create other ways of measuring kids.

BASHORE: John Hall is the parent of a Lansing school district middle schooler and President of Lansing's Parent Community Advisory council. He shared a particular concern about these higher test standards. Here he is.

JOHN HALL: Basically from the time school starts until the MEAPs or the standardized tests are taken, 90% plus of the instruction going on is how to pass the test, how to take the MEAP. If we raise the bar on that--which we are and which we need to do--all of that time will be strictly on the test. We're not going to teach them the reading, writing and arithmetic that we're supposed to be teaching them.

BASHORE: So what percentage of classroom time is devoted to MEAP preparation between the start of school and the test?

HARRIS: Well, there are two things that you need to be aware of. According to the guidelines for taking the MEAP, there is a window where you have to stop all instruction that is related to the MEAP. And the window is at least 2-3 weeks out from the time of the test. I would hope that there are test-taking skills, that they know how to identify key words and key phrases. But those are not just test-taking skills. Those are life skills. Those are the same skills that they need in order to be successful in reading, writing or math.

BASHORE: Standardized testing certainly has its critics. Are you one of them? Does the system overemphasize standardized testing?

HARRIS: There is merit to standardized testing. There is a lot of merit. But you also need to take other pieces of data to inform you. You know, to take that one snapshot and say This is who this person is,' it's just not fair.