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Published in Print: November 24, 2004, as Michigan Considers Scrapping Its High School Test

Michigan Considers Scrapping Its High School Test

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Michigan’s high school achievement test, in place since 1978, could be on its way out to make way for a set of new tests that would measure students’ college readiness.

The state Senate voted overwhelmingly Nov. 10 to approve a five-bill package that would replace the Michigan Educational Assessment Program, or MEAP, high school test. A commission appointed by Lt. Gov. John D. Cherry will make a similar recommendation to Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, a Democrat, in a report to be released next month.

Sen. Wayne Kuipers, the chairman of the Senate education committee, who is listed as a sponsor on all five bills, said in an interview that the new test would be put in place in spring 2007, giving the state department of education ample time to align it with state standards. Called the Michigan Merit Examination, it could include the ACT college-entrance test and ACT WorkKeys, a test of workplace skills, and would take only six hours, compared with the 11 hours students must undergo for the MEAP exam.

The proposed change has met with strong opposition from the state board of education, which says the MEAP is an “excellent” test with rigorous standards.

Students listen during psychology class at Canton High School in Michigan.
Jaclynn Croyle, center, and Ali Asgar Kharodawala listen during psychology class at Canton (Mich.) High School, whose participation level on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program put it on the state's "needs improvement" list.
—Paul Sancya/AP

After reviewing the test, the board voted this past January to keep it. In a letter posted on the department’s Web site, Tom Watkins, the state superintendent of public instruction, says throwing out the MEAP “would be a step backward for our schools, teachers, and most importantly our children.’’

But those views failed to convince many senators, who argued that states that had made the switch to the ACT, the national exam produced by the Iowa City, Iowa-based ACT Inc., saw an increase in college enrollment because students who had previously not considered college decided to go after doing well on the ACT.

Sen. Kuipers said high schoolers aiming to enter college or the workplace need a test that would determine just how well prepared they are to take on such challenges. Right now, he said, students do not take college-entrance tests as seriously as they should. According to the Michigan education department, only about 73,434 of the 110,000 students graduating at the end of the 2003-04 school year took the ACT test.

“This change would give students and their parents a strong reason to take the tests seriously,’’ Mr. Kuipers said.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, which could vote on it by the end of the year.

Change Looming

Gov. Granholm could also be leaning toward a change, said Mary Detloff, a spokeswoman for the governor.

Hearings held by Lt. Gov. Cherry’s Commission on Higher Education and Economic Growth showed that the MEAP was not helping students gain access to college because college administrators don’t consider the results.

“We need to come up with a test acceptable to both’’ high schools and college administrators, Ms. Detloff said.

The Cherry commission, she said, will make a recommendation that “will call for reforming college-prep testing.’’ She added that even Gov. Granholm, who originally was “not too keen on [replacing the MEAP], is now willing to consider it.”

If the change is adopted, it would add Michigan to a small but growing group of states that have augmented their own high school tests with the ACT.

In 2001, Colorado and Illinois added the ACT exam as a requirement for all high school students.

In Illinois, ACT and ACT WorkKeys were incorporated into an 11th grade state achievement exam. Don Sevener, a spokesman for the Illinois board of higher education, said there had been a steady increase in the number of students who enrolled in college in the following years, but there was no study done that would directly link this to the ACT requirement.

Michael Cohen, the president of Achieve, a Washington-based advocacy group for strong academic standards, said Oklahoma is now considering a similar measure.

In another approach to push more students go to college, California has implemented a system in which 11th graders can volunteer to take early-assessment tests that give them a measure of their abilities to succeed at college-level mathematics and English.

“More and more states are trying to make sure they match up’’ high school standards with what students need to know when they enter college, said Keith Gayler, the associate director of the Washington-based Center on Education Policy. He pointed to Indiana’s Core 40 curriculum, which is designed to better prepare students for success in higher education and the workforce through more rigorous standards in high school.

Observers such as Mr. Gayler and Mr. Cohen agree that there are advantages to a system such as the one being considered in Michigan, the biggest being increased college enrollment.

However, Mr. Cohen added, Michigan must consider how well the ACT exam is aligned with its standards. “How much would it need to be augmented?’’ he said.

Martin Ackley, a spokesman for the Michigan education department, said “a lot of work would have to be done’’ to align the new tests to state standards.

He said the department was not opposed to the ACT, adding that there were specific advantages to it and to the MEAP exam.

“One test looks back and provides feedback to schools on whether their curriculum is getting students to where they should be,” he said. “The other is a forward-looking test to see if the student is ready to achieve a postsecondary education... . These are two different tests that test two different things.’’

Vol. 24, Issue 13, Pages 20,24

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