Sunday, July 20, 2014

New developments in statewide standardized assessments

More of an observation than any actual analysis.

In a document published in April 2014 (Assessment Transitions Communication), the state announced that it had planned to start publishing interim assessments*.  In the same document, the state published the conclusion that the Smarter Balanced assessment was really the only way forward.  Since then, the legislature (not the MDE and not the Bureau of Assessments) has decided not to fund the Smarter Balanced assessment, at least not until they go through a bidding process.  I wonder if the interim assessments are going to go forward, because that really would have been useful.

*Interim assessments are defined as tests that students can take throughout the school year to measure their progress.  Not, as the name suggested to me, something they're doing until something better comes up.  Although they're doing that, too.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Summer news on Michigan schools

A little bit of posting links so I can find them again, and a little bit of analysis. 

First, new rules on teacher certification.  The last new rules made it easier to get re-certified: just don't skip the district-provided professional development you already have to go to, and you can re-up your professional certification every 5 years.  I don't remember what the rules for renewing a provisional certificate, or moving from a provisional to a professional certificate, were, 'cos last year I was too freaked out about getting my professional cert renewed.  (Turns out I needn't have worried.)

It looks like the new new rules, effective as of a week ago, make the process of using in-school PD more consistent with using college credits or SCECHs (state-approved, non-district provided PD). 

MEA's flow chart on new certification rules

Next, the state-wide summative assessment.  Until last year this was called the MEAP, and it was the sort of fill-in-the-bubble test which it turns out really only tested reading, no matter what subject name was at the top, but that was okay, because that's pretty much what the ACT does.  (We all know that the ACT is the last word in school efficacy.)  For the last 3 years or so, we have been moving towards the Smarter Balanced assessment, which is computer-based, still kind of multiple choice, and a whole lot harder.  (I for one think this is a good thing, but it has its skeptics, and they include some of the smartest people writing about schools in America.)  Also, unlike the MEAP, the Smarter Balanced assessment was going to take place in the spring, after we'd taught the students what was going to be on it, rather than in October, before they'd learned anything but where to put their backpacks at the beginning of the day.

Over the last year, a number of states have started to backpedal on using the Smarter Balanced assessment and the Common Core standards to which the assessment is tied.  This is a problem for two big reasons.  1.)  The reasons for slowing down have nothing do to with effective education, assessment, or accountability, and heaven knows this plan has plenty of those problems that need addressing.  They seem to be nearly entirely political, which is interesting because the reasons for changing from MEAP to Smarter Balanced also had nothing to do with education and were almost entirely political.  2.) Schools have spent the last 3 years getting ready to implement the Smarter Balanced assessment, and 5 years implementing the Common Core standards.  To change now, the year before everything is supposed to come to fruition, would make for an enormous waste of time and money, neither of which schools have in abundance to begin with.  

Michigan is one of the states backpedaling on the Smarter Balanced assessment.  The state government passed a school aid budget that did not include funding for the Smarter Balanced assessment, but did include money for the MEAP assessment.  This, predictably, caused a freak-out.  If you worked in an auto manufacturing plant and were told that the whole plant was going to be re-fitted, so that instead of making Ford Focuses you would now be making Hummers, and then come to find out you're still making Focuses after all, that's the kind of whiplash change we're talking about, only the re-fitting has taken 5 years and you still had to build Focuses the whole time. 

Today the State Superintendent's office issued a clarification memo, of sorts: It won't be the MEAP after all, we're just calling it the MEAP because that's what we used to call it.  It won't be Smarter Balanced, either, because there's no money for that.  We're going to make a new test, just for school year 2014-15, which we promise will be much better than the MEAP, and we'll get back to you on what we're going to do for SY 2015-16 later.  No word on who's going to design the test--my guess is they're going to take questions from old MEAP tests.  No word on who's going to publish the test--my guess is Pearson.  No word on if the test will undergo anything like the months of prep work and field testing across 45 states that Smarter Balanced has already gone through--my guess is no.

MDE's clarification on student assessment memo