School districts across the state of Michigan received a wonderful Holiday present from the Michigan Department of Education - preliminary state assessment results. Individual student and aggregate results were accessible from the secure state website this week. Public release of this year's results will not be far behind.
This year's results will cause a bit of a stir. Proficiency has been recalculated so that it is no longer possible to receive a rating of "proficient" by answering only 17 of 65 questions correctly. Yes - last year it was possible to answer less than 30% of the questions correct in some grade levels and on some tests and still be classified as proficient.
This year students will need to answer at least 65% of the questions correctly to be called proficient. That is clearly a more accurate assessment of proficiency.
The larger question is what do these state assessments tell us. The test is given in October and the results are typically released several months later. Good teachers already have a sense of the strengths and weaknesses of their students. So does the test really help classroom teachers?
If the conversations between teachers and parents have been frequent and honest, the results will probably not be too much of a shock to parents either. My belief, and my hope, is that teachers have shared an accurate assessment of a child's performance with their parents so the MEAP probably gives little new information.
So if the state assessments are not really valuable for teachers or parents, for whom do they provide value?
The Michigan Department of Education uses the results to calculate Adequate Yearly Progress and to assign report card grades to schools and districts. These measures are used by parents and the public to gain a sense of the relative strengths and weaknesses of a district.
Supporters and detractors of public schools use the results to either promote or disparage public schools.
In the end state assessments should be one piece of a larger puzzle that attempts to identify if students are learning. Teachers and administrators must embrace the challenge of communicating if students are learning. Schools exist to help students learn. If we cannot demonstrate that the students who come to our schools are learning why should we expect the public to support us.
I understand that there are a lot of factors that contribute to student success. Parental involvement, community support, health, safety, and opportunities are just a few of the myriad of things that contribute to student success. As educators we must focus on the things that we can control - what goes on in a classroom each day, our attention to each student, our concern that every student makes progress.
External pressure - whether real or imagined from state assessments - is real. But our goal remains the same - educate every student who walks through the door.