RCAPS reviews first M-STEP data


Webster compares results with NWEA stats

REED CITY — The results of the first implementation of the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress are in, and staff at Reed City Area Schools have mixed reactions on the results and the assessment in general.

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 seventh-grade English language arts, with a 42 percent proficiency, compared to the state average of 49 percent proficient. Its lowest area was fourth-grade science, with a 9 percent proficiency, compared to the state average proficiency of 12 percent.

RCAPS Superintendent Tim Webster admits he isn't fond of the M-STEP and places more stock in the Northwest Evaluation Association Measures of Academic Progress assessment, which is given to students three times a year to measure growth. He believes it more accurately depicts how individual student achievement is faring.

"I see more educators make curriculum changes based on the NWEA test," he added. "I don't think anyone has or will make a curriculum change based on the M-STEP."

Monty Price, Reed City High School principal, takes a more neutral approach to the M-STEP.

"It's mandated by the state, so my opinion about it doesn't matter," he said. "It's part of the whole process so I try to embrace it and do my best to prepare for it. I think if we all focus on the process it'll all work out in time."

Webster sees many disadvantages to the M-STEP, including the length of time it takes for students — especially young students — to finish testing, the newness of the exam and struggles with using technology for the test. Some elementary students had to be taught to use a computer mouse, he said, because they have only been using touch-screen devices.

"There were some hurdles," he added. "It was a whole new gig for everyone. We all had the same struggles."

Price also believes having to use technology for the exam is a setback for the students and staff.

"When you move from paper and pencil to technology-based testing, it creates some issues," he said. "But I think we managed these issues as well as possible. It's probably a state-wide issue, too."

On the other hand, Webster said he liked how adaptive the M-STEP is meant to be. For example, questions were supposed to increase or decrease in difficulty based on students answering questions correctly or incorrectly.

In the case of the district's 2015 M-STEP results, Webster is confident the issues will improve. He said discussions are already taking place among teachers on how to better teach the skills students lack in each subject area.

"Overall, I'm seeing areas that are weak that we need to look at," Webster added. "We'll look at what kids missed and we'll come up with a plan to fix it. The scores are lower than they should be, in my opinion."

Price agreed.

"I think it will take time to adjust and create plans to improve performance," he said. "I didn't expect greatness right away."

In the mean time, Webster will continue looking at the NWEA exam when making curriculum changes and compare those scores with M-STEP scores to make judgments about student achievement and growth.

"I don't think M-STEP has been around long enough to answer any question regarding how successful it can be," he said.