New test scores fail to show full COVID impact

Recently released standardized test results highlight the damaging impact of “pandemic learning” on Michigan’s children. Scores are down nearly across the board and should serve as a wake-up call to keep kids in the classroom.

Too many districts were not prepared to switch to an online-only model in spring 2020, and consequently the quality of learning offered to students was sub par.

This is even more true in urban districts like Detroit, where numerous students checked out completely when they couldn’t physically go to class.

Some takeaways from the 2021 Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, (M-STEP):

— Math scores dropped across the board for every grade tested (3-8 and 11).

— In sixth-grade math, only 28.6% of students tested proficient or above, compared to 35.1% in 2019.

— In third-grade reading, 42.8% were proficient or better, compared to 45.1% in 2019.

Unfortunately, the scores offer an incomplete picture, thanks in large part to a lack of leadership at the Michigan Department of Education. They are likely much lower.

According to the department, 64-72% of students took the test and SAT (offered to 11th-graders) this year. Typically, federal law dictates that 95% of students take the exam, but officials waived that requirement due to COVID.

State Superintendent Michael Rice devoted too much time trying to land a federal waiver from the annual summative test rather than helping prepare districts to offer the exam, despite less than ideal circumstances.

The M-STEP test is the best way to gauge district-wide performance and compare districts to others. And it’s why education experts across the political spectrum advocated for keeping these tests in place.

The U.S. Department of Education offered waivers from the test in spring 2020 to all schools, given the onslaught of COVID-19. Yet the MDE then sought a waiver for the 2020-21 school year as well. When the Trump administration denied the waiver last year, Rice tried again with the Biden administration and was also shot down.

He then made it clear to schools that they didn’t need to encourage students who were remote to come in to take the test. It’s required for testing to be done in-person in Michigan. So districts that were completely or largely remote — including Detroit, Ann Arbor and Lansing — this spring when the test took place, had little incentive to ensure students participated.

“Students who took the state assessments were more likely to be from districts that offered in-person or hybrid learning and less likely to be students of color, economically disadvantaged students, or English learners,” the MDE admitted in a statement.

It’s baffling why the state and any district wouldn’t want to have a clear picture of how students were doing, regardless of how bad the scores may look.

As we’ve said before, given the pandemic, the results shouldn’t be used to punish or shame teachers or students. But unless education officials know where students are academically, they won’t know how best to direct resources to help at-risk kids.

Michigan schools are flush with cash, with about $6 billion in federal virus aid. They should gather all the data possible to know how to spend those dollars. It’s a huge oversight.

— Detroit News


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