Take Poor Michigan Assessment Results With a Grain of Salt, Education Advocate Says

K-12 Alliance Executive Director Robert McCann talks about what dismal testing data say and don’t say about pandemic “learning loss.”

New data from Michigan’s statewide standardized test last school year suggest students are struggling to make academic progress during the pandemic. The Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (MSTEP) results show lower student proficiency in most subjects that were tested.

MichMash hosts Jake Neher and Cheyna Roth talk with one education advocate who said the results should be taken with a grain of salt.

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MSTEP scores dropped in math and social studies for all grades tested. The only glimmer of good news was that reading scores for older students actually improved slightly. This has some educators concerned about so-called “learning loss” during the pandemic.

But some officials in the education world, such as K-12 Alliance of Michigan Executive Director Robert McCann, say there’s a lot of context missing here.

“The biggest takeaway for me is that this test gives us a very incomplete and probably inaccurate view of just what students went through when this test was being given,” McCann says, referring to the constant turmoil during the previous school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

McCann said some administrators argued at the time that the test should not even be administered because the test is meant to be given when students have had a “typical classroom” environment.

“And last year, of course, was anything but typical,” McCann says. “So, we knew if we were to give students this test, it was going to show struggles, but what it wasn’t going to show us necessarily was why students were struggling.”

“The most important thing to remember here is that ultimately, the test became optional. So, a large number of students never even took the test.” –Robert McCann, K-12 Alliance of Michigan

McCann says students were likely struggling for a variety of reasons, from alternating between in-class and remote learning to social and emotional needs that weren’t addressed. He says the data shouldn’t be completely ignored, but that people should realize that it’s incomplete.

“And that’s the most important thing to remember here is that ultimately, the test became optional. So, a large number of students never even took the test,” McCann says.

“Other students were taking it online and an environment that was frankly, uncontrolled. And we don’t know how it was ultimately being taken. That’s, again, not how this test is ultimately designed to be taken. And most importantly, it was tracking progress of lessons they may not have even gotten to at that point in their studies, because, again, it was not a typical school year.”

More from MichMash:

Redistricting Commission Needs Michigan Residents’ Help To Define “Community of Interest”

Mask Mandates, Vaccines and Virtual Learning: Schools Forced to Make Tough Decisions in New School Year

Michigan’s Petition Initiative Process Is A Mess

K-12 Schools Budget a Historic Balancing of Funding for All Michigan Schools, Proponents Say

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  • Cheyna Roth
    Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.
  • Jake Neher
    Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.