Assessment

Michigan Test Data: Four Months Late and Counting

By John Gehring — September 24, 2003 3 min read
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Schools across Michigan are still waiting for the final state test scores to be delivered several months after they were expected because of technical problems with a new state database.

Results from the Michigan Educational Assessment tests, taken by some 600,000 students in 4th, 5th, 7th, and 8th grades last winter, were expected in late May. The test results are meant to provide an important source of information that helps schools improve instruction and target problem areas for the upcoming school year.

The delay also has put thousands of Michigan students in limbo about whether they will be eligible for state scholarships to use at in- and out-of-state universities. That aid is based in part on how students performed on the MEAP test.

A bill in the legislature that would extend a Sept. 15 application deadline for the $2,500 Michigan Merit Award to Nov. 15 last week passed the Senate and is expected to be passed by the House.

The long wait has put administrators like Bill Weber, the superintendent of the 3,500-student South Redford school district near Dearborn, Mich., in a frustrating position.

While he has preliminary data from the test, Mr. Weber can’t begin analyzing the results to improve student weak spots without the final numbers.

“We haven’t received the information where we can do an item analysis, and the kind of strategic planning with respect to instructional changes,” Mr. Weber said. An item analysis is a means of breaking a test down to see how students did on individual test questions.

“We are a district that really uses this stuff, and we spend a lot of time working with the data,” Mr. Weber continued. “The scary part is, we are just four months away from our kids’ taking the next test and it will take our staff three to four weeks to really do a thorough job on the item analysis. We plan on working weekends.”

Terry Stanton, the public-information officer for the Michigan Department of Treasury, the state agency that since 1999 has overseen the MEAP system, said the delays have been caused by glitches with a database used for the first time by the agency this year.

“There have been some difficulties getting the database up and running,” Mr. Stanton said. “It’s not atypical for a first-time program. We had some 600,000 students who took a million-and-a-half tests.

“It’s a daunting project,” he said, “and given it is the first year, perhaps we were a bit optimistic we could get the results out by May.”

He acknowledged that the situation is far from ideal. “Some districts are frustrated by the fact that the scores are late, and we are frustrated by that,” Mr. Stanton said. “We understand the importance of getting the scores to the schools, but first and foremost is getting the correct scores to the schools.”

‘Unanswered Questions’

Last September, the state hired Enterprises Computing Services Inc., based in Woodstock, Ga., to set up the new database, which is expected to allow Michigan to track student test scores more closely.

A spokesman for the company said that Enterprise Computing officials were working on a combination of technical problems that have contributed to the delay. He added, however, that missing answer sheets from tests that schools sent to another vendor, the Durham, N.C.-based Measurement Inc., have also caused the delays.

A public-information officer for the Michigan Department of Education declined to comment on the delay in releasing the test scores, and instead directed questions to the state treasury department.

Sen. Wayne Kuipers, the Republican who chairs the education committee of his chamber of the legislature, has held several hearings on the delays. He said that he has heard mostly from parents and students who want to know if they are eligible for scholarships.

Some delays were inevitable with a new system, Mr. Kuipers said, but he wants the state and vendors involved to learn from their mistakes.

“Clearly, we need to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he said. “We left people with a lot of unanswered questions, and that was unacceptable.”

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