Technology a large issue for district during testing

EVART — Now that the results of the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress are in the hands of school districts across the state, staff within Evart Public Schools are focusing on how provide an advantage for students in their second year of the new test.

M-STEP, which students first took in the spring of 2015, focuses on math, English language arts, science and social studies. It was introduced as an exam to replace the Michigan Education Assessment Program test for third- through eighth-graders and eleventh-graders.

The district's best subject area was third-grade math, with a 47 percent proficiency, compared to the state average of 48 percent proficient. Its lowest areas were fifth-grade math and fourth-grade science, with less than 10 percent proficiency in both, compared to the state average proficiency of 33 and 12 percent, respectively.

"Looking at the results, we figure this past year was a baseline for the test format and what a computer assessment would be like," said Evart Middle School Principal Jason O'Dell. "We knew there would be a learning curve. Now we have a baseline and know what to expect so we can better attack those areas needing improvement."

He was encouraged to see high advanced and proficiency scores in eighth-grade math and sixth-grade English language arts compared to the other schools in the Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District, he said.

However, both O'Dell and EPS Interim Superintendent Shirley Howard have yet to be convinced the M-STEP is the right choice for testing Michigan students.

"It's hard to say if something is good when you're only one year in," he said.

Howard believes there are many issues surrounding the M-STEP because it's brand new, still needs refinement and a it's test neither staff nor students are fully prepared for, even with a practice test.

"I think one of the disadvantages for our students was using the Chromebooks because they have not had a lot of practice with online testing," Howard said.

Not only was online testing new for students, O'Dell said there was a severe lack of technology available at the middle school for the number of students needing to take the M-STEP. Some students had to be bused to Evart Elementary School to use the computers at that facility, he added.

During this year's round of testing, similar tactics may need to be used, unless the additional Chromebooks recently purchased with Title 6 funds are enough. Money from the EPS bond proposal which passed in November will not be available until after testing is finished, O'Dell added.

Some students also had problems with keyboard skills, which made it difficult for them to efficiently complete the M-STEP.

However, O'Dell does feel positively about the exam utilizing technology, as it is something youth are accustomed to using. He believes it's a step up from using a pencil and paper and one in the right direction.

"It's one thing to be working on a computer for two hours than working in a test booklet for two hours," he explained.

Howard and O'Dell also wish the test results were presented to school districts earlier, instead of a few months before the test is administered again.

Moving forward, the district is looking at how to prepare students for the second round of testing to take place in a couple of months.

"We've been digging into several years of data, along with the M-STEP from last year, for patterns and the trajectory of where they are headed," O'Dell said. "We're digging more into the M-STEP to understand expectations and to make sure we are preparing kids to be successfully demonstrating their knowledge."

Once results are looked at more thoroughly, which is expected to take place at a meeting in February, teachers can help students prepare for the second implementation of the M-STEP, Howard added.