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Latest M-STEP scores show little change in Michigan schools

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Michigan students aren't performing worse than in the past, but they're not doing better.

When it comes to standardized testing, Michigan’s students don’t seem to be performing any better than in recent years — or too much worse.

The Michigan Department of Education released the results of the 2018 M-STEP test Wednesday.

The state started using the M-STEP in 2015. It tests all third-through-eighth grade students in English Language Arts and math. It also tests some of those grade levels, along with 11th grade students, in science and social studies, though the state did not release science results this year.

Credit Michigan Department of Education
Michigan Department of Education
2018 M-STEP test results for English/Language Arts

In reading and math, the latest results show almost no significant movement among scores at any grade level during that time.

In reading, students at all grade levels regularly test between 40-50 percent proficient or above. Math scores decline as students get older. In 2018, 45.7 percent of third graders tested at least proficient in math, whereas only 32.7 percent of eighth graders did.

Andrew Middlestead, director of the office of educational assessment and accountability at MDE, points to one potential highlight among the data—a very slight rise in reading scores among third and fourth-graders. He suggests that could reflect that state efforts to boost early literacy are starting to pay off.

“The timing’s about right to start seeing an impact in these test scores,” said Middlestead. “And we’re hopeful that things are starting to take foot, and working well around helping these kids out.”

But reading scores declined at all other grade levels from 20-17-2018.

Middlestead says the state has made some “minor” adjustments to M-STEP since it launched in 2015, but no changes are planned for the upcoming school year. He says the test has become a good baseline measurement for student proficiency, but has limitations.

“M-STEP test scores are valuable pieces of information, but they’re just one piece of information. They never tell a whole story about a student or a school,” Middlestead said.

Nonetheless, the M-STEP is an important factor in deciding which schools are deemed “low-performing,” and subject to state accountability measures. And starting next school year, it will also play some role in deciding which third-grade students are held back based on reading proficiency, per a new state law.

Despite the slight hike in third grade reading scores this year, only 44.4-percent of third graders tested proficient or above. But Middlestead says the state is still deciding how, exactly, schools will determine which students are not reading at “grade level” and won’t pass onto fourth grade.

Credit Michigan Department of Education
Michigan Department of Education
2018 M-STEP math test results

“We certainly would encourage folks not to just look at the M-STEP English/language arts score and assume the students who are not proficient on that are going to be the number potentially retained. That’s not how it’s going to work,” Middlestead said.

Michigan also uses the SAT as the statewide measure to test all eleventh-graders. Those scores were down from 2017, with Michigan students scoring an average combined 1000.1 on the math and reading/writing tests, out of a possible 1600.

A breakdown of how individual schools and districts performed on the M-STEP  can be found here, and SAT scores found here.

*Correction: An earlier version of this story said 50-percent of Michigan third-graders tested proficient or above in English/Language Arts in 2018. The correct number is 44.4-percent. The story was also updated to reflect that ELA scores declined across grades 5-8 from 2017-2018.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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