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Community Members Sample New Standardized Tests

Kent ISD Hosts Experiential Event to Broaden Understanding


Parents, CEOs, journalists and community members stepped into the shoes of Michigan students recently taking a practice portion online of the new M-STEP assessment and the SAT.

The Take the Test event, hosted by Kent ISD, gave people a taste of what it’s like to take a standardized test via computer, rather than the No. 2 pencils and bubble sheets of the past. It also provided a sense of the tests’ expectations, beginning with third-grade standards. Participants answered six M-STEP and four SAT questions, then provided feedback on the experience.

The State of Michigan switched from the MEAP to the M-STEP last school year, and all high schoolers will begin taking the SAT instead of the ACT this spring. The tests are designed to challenge students to dive deeper into subjects and develop critical-thinking skills, said Dorothy VanderJagt, director of Teaching and Learning for Kent ISD.

Test-takers’ reactions were mixed, with some commenting that the tests were mentally stimulating and others feeling shocked by the multi-step, text-heavy problems. “This still to me is such a narrow assessment of intelligence,” said Troy Thrash, CEO of the Air Zoo, in Portage. “Many kids will feel more left behind because of this kind of tool.”

Jamie Farber, mother of two children in Forest Hills Public Schools, said she was surprised at how intricate the questions were. “It was so focused and multi-faceted,” she said, noting that it requires deeper thinking and tech-ready classrooms.

She said she understands why schools spend so much time on test preparation. “I’m feeling more sympathy for my son,” she said.

Dylan VanderJagt, a Hudsonville Public Schools fifth-grader and Dorothy VanderJagt’s son, said the test seemed familiar and not too difficult. “You have to really get prepared in the best way you can… The more anxiety kids have the less chance they will have to do well, so comfort them, really,” he told adults in the group.

Dylan may have been the most comfortable participant. “I feel like the older you get the more you lose test-taking skills,” he said.

Editor’s Note: This column is part of a multi-story package about standardized testing in our schools. Other related stories: 

Preparing the Community for New Tests

Led by Dorothy VanderJagt and William Smith, Kent ISD assistant superintendent of instructional services, the purpose of the event was to build awareness of the test and its expectations. Kent ISD invited Maranda to take the test and share the information with parents across West Michigan.

English language arts and mathematics are assessed with statewide tests in grades 3–8, science in grades 4 and 7, and social studies in grades 5 and 8.

The Michigan Merit Examination in 11th grade  consists of multiple tests:

  • a college entrance exam, now the SAT
    (covering English language arts and mathematics)
  • a 3-part WorkKeys assessment (which leads to a National Career Readiness certificate)
  • M-STEP tests in science and social studies.”There are a lot of misconceptions about the assessment, what the assessment is like and the state standards, so we just wanted to have some community members in here so they can get exposure to the process,” VanderJagt said. “We want to replicate this out in the local districts so they can get a taste what the test is like.”

Concerns continue over the M-STEP’s new online format because of disparities in available technology among districts. Also, districts received results many months after students took the test, into the next school year.

Educators have argued that they’d like instant results that can drive instruction. Getting results so late means that teachers cannot  help that year’s students and districts can’t  make thoughtful changes to when lessons are taught.

Smith said there are pros and cons to the M-STEP, but keeping up with technology is imperative. “There’s so much apprehension to change and there’s fear wrapped around change, but imagine if we wouldn’t evolve our system to get the information we need to be successful? We just have to endure some of this change, and you do that by enlightening people and moving people ahead.”

Wendy Falb, Grand Rapids Public Schools Board member and executive director of Literacy Center of West Michigan, found the new test interesting. “It was stimulating,” she said. “I miss school.”

A sampling of comments and reaction to the sample test experience follows:

“Taking a test on a computer is difficult compared to pencil and paper.”

“I needed a lot more time. I am not smarter than a fifth grader!”

“It’s all about reading.”

“Enlightening and painful. As a creative person, the logical piece of simply taking this test was very intimidating.”

“Knowing how to use technology (computer, keyboard, mouse) as a prerequisite for doing their best on a high-stakes test can be a barrier for some students.”

“Interesting to see how multi-faceted the M-Step questions were.”

“The test was much harder than I thought it would be!”

“There is very little room for divergent learners to feel empowered and supported.”

“This may exacerbate digital divides that exist in different communities.”

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Michigan and the SAT

The New SAT

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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