- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 29, 2017

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - While test scores worsened in reading and science, and improved in math and social studies, fewer than half of all Michigan students were proficient on the latest round of the M-STEP state standardized assessment, according to results released Tuesday.

Scores from this past spring rose in 10 of the 18 subject areas tested in grades 3-8 and 11, yet dropped in the other eight subjects - including the critically important English language arts, on which the state has put an increased emphasis in early grades because it is a key predictor for student success.

The new results cover the third year of the harder M-STEP, which replaced the long-running Michigan Education Assessment Program, or MEAP. They also include the second year of 11th-graders being required to take the SAT instead of the ACT college entrance exam. The average SAT score rose from 1001 to 1007.

State Superintendent Brian Whiston, who plans to tweak the M-STEP this school year, called the math and social studies scores “exciting news” and the reading and writing results “disappointing.”

“I am confident that investments into early childhood education and literacy support will bring improvement and growth,” he said in a statement. “We need to stay focused and diligent.”

In reading, the percentage of third- through eighth-graders deemed proficient or above ranged from 44 percent to 51 percent. For math, the proficiency numbers bottomed out at 34 percent in eighth grade and ranked highest at 47 percent in third grade.

Science scores ranged from 15 percent to 34 percent proficiency, social studies from 22 percent to 46 percent.

Schools with extremely low M-STEP results could ultimately face intervention from Michigan’s turnaround office.

The state Department of Education said early literacy programs created and funded by the Legislature in recent years have just begun to reach teachers and students. The initiatives include extra money for instructional time - $20 million for the upcoming academic year - literacy coaches provided by county-level school districts and additional professional learning resources.

The state budget enacted this summer requires the agency to solicit bids for a new assessment system. A request for proposals is due by Oct. 1, and the department must approve summative and benchmark tests by Jan. 1.

The agency, though, is working with the Legislature on a supplemental spending bill to clarify Whiston’s plan. He wants an “improved” M-STEP that is shorter and is in place for next spring. He also plans a new mandatory fall benchmark assessment and a new voluntary interim winter assessment starting in the 2018-19 academic year, so teachers can better track individual students’ progress, said state spokesman Martin Ackley.

Whiston, acknowledging “volatility” in statewide testing, said: “We want to be responsive to educators, develop a solid and informative testing system, then let it stand for at least 10 years.”

The move is not being welcomed by all education experts, however.

The Education Trust-Midwest, an advocacy group based in Royal Oak, said Michigan for the first time in many years has reliable data for measuring academic performance and holding schools accountable.

“Changing the test or the test content now - as some have proposed - would force Michigan to reset the clock on our data yet again,” said public engagement director Brian Gutman.

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Online:

Results: www.migschooldata.org and www.michigan.gov/mstep

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This story has been corrected to say that Whiston wants to change the M-STEP, not replace it.

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