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Feds say Michigan students must take M-STEP test this spring despite COVID

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The U.S. Department of Education has denied Michigan's request to waive the federal requirement of year-end statewide assessments, known as state summative tests, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

That means Michigan students are going to have to take the M-STEP and several other tests this spring.

According to the Michigan Department of Education, the tests include M-STEP for students in grades 3-8; PSAT 8/9 for students in 8th grade; MME, including SAT, for students in 11th grade; MI-ACCESS for students receiving special education services in grades 3-8 and 11; and WIDA for students in English learner programs in grades K-12.

State Superintendent Michael Rice said the U.S. education department is out of touch with conditions in public schools as the schools deal with COVID.

"Michigan has the highest rates of recent COVID-19 cases and recent cases per 100,000 in the nation at the moment," said Rice.

Rice said the state summative tests must be administered in person, in school, and districts have to offer virtual students the opportunity to take the relevant test. But he said virtual-only students will not be required to come into school just to take the test.

"There is no one that is going to compel a parent to have their child enter a local school if that parent believes that it's unsafe for that child to do so," said Rice.

"So we're going to get state summative results, I predict, for fewer than half of our children in the State of Michigan," Rice said.

Rice said the MDE had argued that locally chosen and administered national benchmark assessments, that were mandated by state law last summer for this school year, were a better alternative during the pandemic to the state summative tests for informing parents and teachers about how students are performing and to help target resources.

"We ought not to burn time, attention, energy, focus, money on state summative assessments in the spring in the midst of a pandemic," said Rice. "We should be focused on children's academic, and social and emotional well-being." 

State Board of Education President Casandra Ulbrich called the U.S. Department of Education's decision to deny the waiver "beyond disappointing" and "shameful." 

"Michigan citizens, educators and parents will get virtually no useful and actionable information from this year's state tests," said Ulbrich in a written statement.

In a letterTuesday to Rice, USED deputy assistant secretary for policy and programs Ian Rosenblum outlined the reasons for rejecting Michigan's waiver request. 

"MDE does not sufficiently demonstate how the request will advance student achievement," Rosenblum wrote. "It also does not describe how schools will continue to provide assistance to some populations served by the Title I, Part A program, particularly low achieving students, or describe how the State will maintain or improve transparency in reporting to parents and the public on student achievemenent and school performance."

Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.
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