EDITORIAL: Parents must make sure kids take test

The Detroit News
·3 min read

Apr. 11—The Michigan Department of Education got slapped down (again) in its request for a federal waiver from standardized tests, this time from the Biden administration. It's great that accountability won't be tossed completely, but parents must now step up to ensure their children take the test.

State Superintendent Michael Rice is not planning to encourage parents to have their children complete the summative assessments — especially if the students remain out of the classroom. This is troubling, as it's these students the state should be most keen on tracking.

"With its decision today to deny Michigan's request to waive M-STEP testing in the midst of the pandemic, USED continues to demonstrate its disconnect from conditions in public schools in Michigan and across the country," Rice said in a statement Tuesday.

State Board of Education President Casandra Ulbrich chimed in, calling the decision "shameful."

Rice has estimated that fewer than half of Michigan students will take the test, given the large number of students who are still virtual. School officials have to offer the tests at school, and even students still learning at home will have the option to take the test in-person.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's "urging" of high schools to go virtual for two weeks will also complicate testing, which had been set to begin this week. Schools do have more flexibility to complete testing this year, however.

"Having critical data to better understand the impact COVID had on learning is of tremendous value," said Tom Watkins, former state superintendent, in an email. "Let's stop whining about testing and get busy on accelerating learning."

The state Education Department should want to know how students around the state are doing, as schools have varied greatly in how they've responded to the pandemic, with some dragging their feet much longer than others on getting students back to in-person learning.

There are always disparities among districts in Michigan, and those are likely to be even greater this year. Yet that's important information that could help target additional assistance to schools for tutoring and summer programs.

The Education Trust-Midwest, which has advocated strongly for not doing away with the M-STEP, says having the results of the standardized tests will be integral to "understand the impact" of lost learning the past year.

The U.S. Department of Education rightly stood up to pressure from states like Michigan, as well as teachers unions, which have clamored for a pass from accountability during the pandemic.

"MDE does not sufficiently demonstrate how the request will advance student academic achievement," wrote Ian Rosenblum, deputy assistant secretary for policy and programs, in a letter to Rice. "It also does not describe how schools will continue to provide assistance to the same populations served by the Title I, Part A program, particularly low-achieving students, or describe how the State will maintain or improve transparency in reporting to parents and the public on student achievement and school performance."

The challenges schools faced this past year are enormous, and those circumstances should be taken into account when test results come in. The results shouldn't be used to punish districts or teachers.

But they will help guide schools and the state as they seek to get students caught up.