The original version of this post was published on Green & Write -- Michigan State University College of Education's Education Policy Research Insights blog
Several states are taking some surprising actions with regard to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 2014, including Michigan. Despite Michigan’s adoption and early implementation of the CCSS, it is still not ready to get on board with the Smarter Balanced assessment..
Last-Minute Withdrawal from Smarter Balanced
Michigan is a full member of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which means that it has been involved in the development of the test items, and has gone through both the pilot test and field test. In December 2013 (after the field test), Michigan published a report evaluating the potential assessment systems, claiming that Smarter Balanced met the state’s assessment needs in every category.
Why then is Michigan backing away from the Smarter Balanced assessment system? This big surprise came in June 2014 when Governor Rick Synder officially signed off on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) as the state test for the upcoming school year. With all the time and money spent on membership and the recent positive evaluation, this last-minute change seems curious, especially because this action could put Michigan at risk of losing its No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver *.
Working with MEAP
Whether MEAP is a better choice than the Smarter Balanced assessment is not the concern at the moment. Even though the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) delayed the state test until spring 2015, there are still many immediate challenges that the interim assessment is facing.
One of the biggest concerns for MEAP is its comparability. In a report released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in early September, Michigan is criticized as one of the four worst states on the metric “truth in advertising.” This metric measures the disparity between the state test and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), long considered the national standard for student performance. When carefully compared to NAEP, Michigan’s state test tends to categorize more students as proficient than the national standardized test, thus creating the illusion for schools and parents that our students are doing all right.
On the 2013 state test, MEAP classified 70% of the 4th graders as at or above proficient in reading, and 72.7% of the 8th graders at or above proficient in reading. The same year, NAEP results showed that only 31% of the 4th graders and 33% of the 8th graders in Michigan were at or above proficient in reading. These large differences raise questions about whether Michiganders can trust the MEAP test results.
Ready or Not
Unfortunately, there is no indication that this problem will be corrected anytime soon. Development work on MEAP was suspended in 2010 because of the planned transition to the Smarter Balanced assessment plan. Like it or not, the MEAP now has to be ready for the 2014-2015 school year. Currently, the MDE claims that it is not just reinstating the old MEAP. Rather, the department is developing a new summative assessment tailored to the current Michigan standards, which includes both the CCSS and Michigan’s “college and career-ready” requirement. We might wonder: Is the department trying to pull off a mission impossible in such a short time?
On the Bright Side
As a member of the Smarter Balanced Consortium, Michigan can still use some of the Smarter Balanced assessment items in the development of its own state test, even if it does not adopt the entire assessment system. This means that the state does not need to start from scratch. Michigan also recently secured a renewal of its NCLB waiver for another year. This gives Michigan some freedom and flexibility as it works to transition to new tests. Additionally, there are federal funds available to support Michigan as it works to develop its new assessment plan. Maybe Michigan can really pull off this challenging task after all. Only time will tell.
 Future Green & Write Accountability and Assessment Blogs will further consider the merits and demerits of the Smarter Balanced assessment.