Local school districts prepare for new statewide test

BIG RAPIDS — As the state of Michigan conducts a pilot test that aligns with the Common Core, area superintendents have expressed concern about the new test and the technological challenges it could present their districts.

The Common Core is a set of standards for math, science, English and social studies programs adopted by 45 states.

The new test, created by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium to test students in third through 11th grades on English and math to determine their college and career readiness, would replace the MEAP, which has been administered in Michigan for about 40 years.

Primarily completed online, the assessment poses difficulties for some school districts, which do not have the technology to accommodate the testing. Students at these districts will complete a paper version instead.

At Morley Stanwood Community Schools there is a lack of computer lab space, so Superintendent Roger Cole said that the district will give the test using Google Chromebooks.

“I understand at this point that the test can be taken on a portable device,” Cole said. “If that wasn’t possible, we couldn’t do it online.”

Cole added that he is more concerned about the rigor of the test than students’ ability to navigate the technology.

“We offer a technology class as a ‘specials’ course, a related art class at the elementary level and into middle school,” he said. “It’s new this year. Not all students take a computer class in ninth and 10th grade in high school because of limited time in their schedule.

“Our students are digital natives now, growing up with technology, but I don’t think putting it online is going to make a difference in the level of enthusiasm. It might at first, but a test is a test is a test.”

Big Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Tim Haist said students will be prepared academically for the test, as BRPS has already made the transition to teaching the Common Core standards.

“Our students will have the content knowledge to be successful on the test,” Haist said.

Students at BRPS use technology from kindergarten through high school, he added.

“What worries us is making sure we have the technology ready. They speak of it being an online format, and we want to make sure we have enough time to have the technology in place. Typically we take the MEAP test in fall, but we have been told this test would be in the spring. We want to make sure we have enough lead time to prepare before the test.”

Reed City Area Public Schools Superintendent Tim Webster said, thanks to a Technology Readiness Infrastructure Grant, RCAPS should be prepared for the online assessment as well.

“We would like to have more computers,” Webster said. “If it is going to take each kid two to three hours to complete the test and we have 480 kids taking it, that’s a lot of computer hours.”

RCAPS began testing students at the middle and high school levels this year, giving students the chance to practice their test-taking skills while also allowing them to identify areas for improvement. Students are tested at the beginning, middle and end of the school year and work to improve their scores during academic center three times per week.

“Students get to know their score and take ownership of it,” Webster said. “It’s cool, because even if first test score is low, the goal is to raise it for next test. We celebrate success and improvement.”

By giving students the tools they need to succeed, Webster said he hopes they will excel.

“Even thought this test will be different and it is supposed to be more challenging, it’s the same challenge other schools in our area will face,” he said. “We are doing our best to get ready for it.”