Assessment Opinion

Michigan Math Teacher: No Way Are My Children Taking the MSTEP Tests

By Nancy Flanagan — April 11, 2015 3 min read
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A guest post from a teacher leader in Michigan who must remain anonymous. I have never posted an anonymous blog before, but understand why this teacher’s job would be in jeopardy if his/her name were used. And--that’s why I’m posting it: Those who endorse--and market-- standardized tests are free to promote their conviction that we must have nationally-developed, annual testing (and use our students as guinea pigs to pilot-test their validity)--while teachers who pilot these soon-to-be-national tests and see the issues first-hand are threatened by loss of livelihood simply for sharing their observations. Here is one teacher’s story:

I am a teacher. I care deeply for my students, who may be your children. And I can do nothing to protect them from the academic malpractice they are soon to experience.

Two years ago, I proctored my first pilot of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. It was a challenge for our technology department to make sure our computers were ready and the student login protocol would run smoothly. We missed nearly five hours of instruction that first year, working on the pilot test.

Right away, kids noticed trouble with the user interface. There were points they couldn’t connect on the screen with their mouse like they were supposed to be able to do. I watched them struggle and could not help with a solution. It was the program, not the child.

I told my students we were just practicing and the test was still being developed. It didn’t “count.” It was OK if they made a mistake because the program was glitchy. I was looking forward to giving feedback about the issues we experienced. Except--we were never asked for any feedback.

I felt had. We lost all of that learning time, and we learned very little about the program beyond how irritating the interface was. And the test creators didn’t learn anything about the issues my students experienced.

Last year, in the second pilot, I tried to help a student who had trouble selecting the correct answer on his screen. He knew the right answer and was clicking on it, but, the program didn’t recognize his submission. The only way he could move on to the next question was to select an answer he knew was incorrect.

Connecting the points was still very difficult for students, as the program hadn’t been improved. We did our time at the computers, another five hours of instruction time lost--and still no opportunity to offer feedback on our experience.

I felt discouraged. What would compel us, in education, to do this--waste our learning time on a test we know is not valid, and would not be improved with our feedback?

This year, we’ll be back to testing again. This time, it counts. This time it will be called the M-STEP, but that’s only a label change. The questions were largely purchased from Smarter Balanced. It seems Lansing feels they can give it a different name and now it isn’t Smarter Balanced or Common Core.

This time the testing will last for 10 hours. My livelihood depends on me delivering this monstrosity to my students. Advocating for them, informing parents about their opting out options, or even putting my name on this piece I’m writing would jeopardize my job.

To my students: I am so, so sorry. To their parents: please get informed about your options.

My own children will not be taking this test. They will be opted out. I will not stand by as hours of instructional time is lost to a test that will not reveal any new information about my child. Their teachers do a wonderful job of assessing their progress already.

In my role as teacher, I have never been surprised by a standardized test result. We already know the strengths and weaknesses of our students. We also know how creative, kind, hard-working, and resourceful they are--some of the things that matter in real life success but are never measured on tests.

As a teacher, I have no power to change the standardized testing situation. However, as a parent, I do. We do.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.