State Supe: Measure Student Growth, Proficiency

State Superintendent Brian Whiston, third from right, recently met with local school officials including (from left) Trish Lopucki, Ron Koehler, Timothy Detwiler, Doug LaFleur and Michelle Gallery

When it comes to measuring student achievement, the measuring stick should be all about individual growth. So said state Superintendent Brian Whiston in a conversation with district administrators during a recent visit.

State-mandated standardized tests are necessary, but they should focus primarily on how much students gain academically over the course of a school year, Whiston told Superintendent Scott Korpak and three school board members.

“I really think we need to go to a growth and proficiency model for accountability,” Whiston said. “Districts who have good growth, good proficiency, leave them alone. Let’s get the (state education) department out of your way,” and focus on the few dozen districts with the lowest growth and proficiency, he said.

Whiston reiterated his push for tests such as the Measures of Academic Progress, already given twice yearly to about a third of Michigan students, to gauge their progress and inform teacher instruction. Such tests can also help evaluate teachers and principals but shouldn’t be the only factors, he said.

“’Where did I get my students and where did I take my students is where the conversation ought to be,” he added.

Whiston also touched on state funding challenges and new ways to support struggling districts, prior to taking a tour of Northview’s Deaf & Hard of Hearing Program. He met with Korpak, school board President Doug LaFleur, board members Timothy Detwiler and Michelle Gallery, and Kent ISD Assistant Superintendent Ron Koehler.

On Funding, Takeovers & Testing

Whiston said he is working to get more per-pupil funding to districts that serve more at-risk students, but noted education money is competing with fixing roads, water systems and other infrastructure needs. In response to the recently enacted federal Every Student Succeeds Act, Whiston said he is seeking grants to create a community conversation about where to go from here. The aim is to provide support teams to help struggling districts increase student achievement, he said, adding state takeovers “haven’t worked.”

“Takeovers have worked in cities because it’s not as complicated. It’s about money and services,” Whiston said. “Kids are a little more difficult. They’re not a chip in a product.”

On testing, Whiston said he wants to move away from the current M-STEP, which has been criticized as too time-consuming, toward a MAP-test model for elementary grades. In addition, he said he would like to use SAT tests for grades 8-11 and add a “mini M-STEP,” to be given once in elementary and once in middle school, that would emphasize practical problem-solving.

That would support Northview’s mission to prepare students for life’s next step, said Gallery, adding it’s difficult to measure progress in an engaging way for students.

“Kids don’t mind solving challenges, but they do mind sitting in front of a computer screen for hours on end,” Gallery said.

Whiston agreed traditional tests are not “real life.”

“When you come to work today and you’ve got a problem to solve, you don’t put people in front of a computer and say, ‘Sit there for three hours.’ You say ‘What’s the problem and how do we solve it?’ It is truly what we should be doing to prepare kids.”

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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