Multiple choices in standardized testing debate

Michigan’s April and May are months of acronyms. It’s a time to M-STEP through the tulips, springing forward into the PSAT, SAT and ACT.

But whether this six-week testing season results in flowers or weeds is a matter of opinion in the struggle to determine what kids really know and how well they’re being served by their teachers, districts and systems.

In Michigan, stakes are high all around — even as debaters chew at the tests’ usefulness and fairness.

Standardized testing is supposed to objectively measure student performance in terms of the individual and the teacher/district/system that educates them. They determine 40% of a teacher’s evaluation in Michigan, according to The Skillman Foundation. Michigan’s Read by Grade Three law means third-graders who score a grade below on the English language arts portion of the M-STEP could be retained for a year. High schoolers’ scores on their SATs and PSATs help determine admission and scholarships in some colleges and universities.

COVID-19-related disruptions prompted Michigan legislators in 2021 to ask to skip testing altogether — which didn’t fly with the U.S. Department of Education, (though it loosened its attendance requirements), but the state’s third-grade reading law was lifted.

This year, what will happen to the scores is still a multiple-choice question.

Last month legislators introduced state bills asking for COVID-19-related leniency in using test results to evaluate teachers or hold back students. Other leaders want to get back to pre-COVID times as fast as possible.

Still others want the tests themselves to disappear as scholastic bites continue to nibble away at their efficacy. Reasons range from testing bias that may leave low income and minority students behind, to that tests in general aren’t a good measure of actual learning.

Dropping SAT/ACT requirements are at an all-time high, according to FairTest, a nonprofit advocacy group that counted more than 1,800 colleges and universities. Michigan’s House of Representative recently approved a law that would leave disclosing their scores up to the high school students. Pew Research found that, while people in general believe that grades (61%) and testing (39%) should be major factors in college admissions, both percentages dropped by 6% since 2019.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology leaders recently announced a month ago that they were reinstating its SAT/ACT requirement, as the measures are one of the best ways to predict student success, according to its experts.

We think that tests need to be tested, just as the students are. The ACT/SAT were in theory developed to remove privilege in education and can identify and help struggling students and districts.

Finding the best way to gauge learning and teaching must be, by its nature, a constantly evolving science.


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