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Michigan schools granted flexibility with student MEAP scores

Some Michigan elementary and middle school students might be able to get away without learning everything they’re supposed to.

Beginning in fall 2013, the United States Department of Education is allowing state officials to allow students who fail the Michigan Educational Assessment Program, but whose scores show significant improvement from the previous year, to be considered passing for state accountability purposes.

“The goal for every student should be progress toward optimal performance,” fixed-term faculty of Counseling and Special Education Mark Moody said. “Just because a student isn’t proficient doesn’t mean they weren’t successful. I think that if a student shows progress (from year to year), that progress should count for something.”

The MEAP is an exam administered annually in all Michigan public schools that measures the knowledge of students in mathematics, reading, science, social studies and writing. Students are rated advanced, proficient, partially proficient or not proficient in each category.

Each student’s score is compared to a standard derived by the Department of Education that ballparks where students should be in the learning process. Students are grouped into categories, and when students don’t do well, it reflects poorly on the classroom and school they’re in, even if they’ve improved in immeasurable ways.

The results of the test are used to determine whether a student should be promoted to the next grade level and if a school will receive financial aid or penalties from the state.

With Michigan schools being granted flexibility in reporting student’s scores, this means some schools might receive a better evaluation score than its students’ MEAP results call for.

The idea of such flexibility came as a way to catch students who are significantly behind their grade level in terms of achievement up with their peers. Some schools argue without this flexibility, the work involved with improving scores of struggling students would not receive the credit it deserves.

In 2012, the Michigan Department of Education applied for the flexibility allowance, and the USDE granted the request and will be implemented in August.

Moody said the flexibility allowance simply reflects the sort of flexibility teachers must show every day in the classroom.

“In order to achieve progress, it’s important to differentiate instruction to meet each student’s academic needs,” he said. “Just because one student is proficient doesn’t mean you stop teaching them to focus on a student who isn’t at that level yet. Instead, you differentiate instruction so they both are given an opportunity to show progress.”

Douglas Putnam, a senior from Saginaw, is studying middle-level education, with a focus in special education. He didn’t have a problem with the initiative to pass students who don’t perform well on the MEAP, as long as they showed improvement, and said there is too much emphasis placed on standardized testing when it’s not an efficient tool of measurement.

“The problem is we as an educational system are pushing the idea of standardized testing on all of our (school) districts without understanding that it is not always the most efficient ideal,” he said. “But, since education is driven by the almighty dollar, (standardized testing) is what we always turn to.”

Putnam said students should be provided with other ways to measure their capabilities.

“In order to allow kids to succeed, we need to not measure everything by tests, but other forms of assessment,” he said. “It’s not fair that we use the same test for everyone, even special needs students.”

Staff reporter Jackson Seedott contributed to this report. 

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