Forget Scantrons and No. 2 pencils. Standardized testing will look very different for the Michigan students of 2014 and beyond.
That’s because the Michigan Department of Education is replacing the traditional, standardized Michigan Education Assessment Program, or MEAP, exams with new, electronic assessments that will assess students in math, reading and writing.
But the change is going to be an expensive proposition for Dearborn Public Schools.
The Dearborn Board of Education, which steers policy for the 19,000-student district, will have to make a decision about how to pay for the unfunded mandate in the cash-strapped district—which could include asking voters to approve a bond, or a sinking fund, to help pay for needed technological upgrades required by the state.
“(These are) dollars that are not available in our current budget by far,” said Trustee Joseph Guido. “My question is if the state and the federal government is moving to online testing, could that be considered a mandate that could carry some funding with it?”
Troy Patterson, the district’s technology coordinator, said there might be some federal or state funds available, such as Section 22-I funds, $50 million of which was awarded to Michigan for grants to districts or intermediate districts to develop or improve technology.
However, it’s unlikely the district will get enough 22-I funding to pay for all of the upgrades that are needed.
“Every school district is in the same kind of situation,” he said. “It’s not going to be able to do much to impact what we need to do.”
Supt. Brian Whiston said that the district is technologically in a good place, but the various upgrades are needed.
“As the state moves to online testing, and we as a district move to online testing, we are finding we don’t have the equipment necessary to do that,” he said.
Currently, the district is in the process of determining what equipment and software is needed, and how much it will cost, Patterson said. The district owns about 5,000 computers, but several of those don’t meet sate criteria in terms of memory, software, operating systems, and screen resolution, Patterson said.
“We also put in a whole lot of new computers about 10 years ago, and unfortunately we replaced a small slice of those due to funding and other situations that have gone on,” he said.
Complicating matters further is what equipment is needed, he added.
“We think of computers, but I’m using an iPad today, and the iPad can be used for a number of things, and more generically tablets because we’re not sure that in two years that it’s going to be an iPad, it may be another type of tablet,” Patterson said.
One bright spot is the district’s network, which was advanced when it was implemented after a technology bond was approved 10 years ago.
“The board wisely invested in infrastructure with a bond that we passed about 10 years ago now. We put in a lot of infrastructure that is still adequate, that is still state of the art today, and that planning ahead and that investment has served us well and continues to serve us well,” Patterson said. “We do need to do a little tweaking with it, but for the most part, the optics for the buildings are what most districts are trying to catch up with.”
Wireless technology, though, crept up on the district, and will likely be an area that requires a major investment, Patterson said.
“We do face some major challenges in wireless,” he said. “Ten years ago, there was no real push for wireless, now, everyone expects wireless. Some of our buildings do have wireless, a few of them, and that’s been done by initiatives within buildings. But it is a challenge that we’d like to address district-wide, to be able to provide that.”
In addition to being entirely online, the new statewide assessments will measure student proficiency by using a common question first. Subsequent questions will them based on the prior answer; if the student answered the first question correctly, a more difficult question will follow. An incorrect response will yield an easier question, Patterson said.
Michigan is one of 40 states that have adopted the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium guidelines, which are consistent with Common Core Standards in math and language arts.
Board President Mary Lane said she’s concerned confusion about how the test works could affect student scores. “I just wonder whether at least initially those will impact test scores if kids aren’t familiar with the test mechanism,” she said.
Patterson said the district will work to create familiarity with the tests among students and teachers.
“It’s not just the kids that need to get the experience, it’s the staff members, too, in part because there are some different skills you need in order to take a test online, or electronically,” he said. “The teachers need to understand how to help the kids prepare for that.”