Quality and Testing
that a school has met certain standards set by the State Board of
Education and the legislature.
Core curriculum A
course of study followed by all students in a particular school
district, state, or other area. Michigan schools are not required
to teach a state-mandated core curriculum but may follow a model
core curriculum recommended by the state.
Michigan Educational Assessment
Program (MEAP) Mandatory statewide academic testing
for 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th and 11th graders in such subjects as math,
reading, writing, science, and social studies. The MEAP test is
based on the subject matter in the model core curriculum.
Professional development Ongoing
teacher education and training.
[APRIL 1, 2002] Article VIII, section 2, of the Michigan
Constitution requires the legislature to maintain and support
a system of free public elementary and secondary schools as defined
by law, and many people see this as one of state government's
most important functions.
The state has become increasingly involved in overseeing
the performance of K12 students, particularly since the 1994
school finance reforms, which made the state the largest K12
funding source. The state's interest in education quality stems
from the obvious need for a well-educated citizenry, a deep-held
belief that a good education is essential to a person's well-being,
and a need to document the return on investment for state education
The state and the nation have struggled in recent
years to find a fair, realistic, and accurate way to measure academic
performance. This has proven to be no easy task. Some commonly used
indicators of a school's quality include its graduation rate, dropout
rate, and funding level. However, these indicators, while easily
calculated, provide little information on classroom learning.
Standardized testing is becoming commonly used nationwide
to quantify and compare academic outcomes across districts and time.
Michigan uses such testing and has been administering its own standardized
evaluation tool, the Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP)
test, to students since the 1970s.
Michigan Education Assessment Program
Arguably, the most controversial test given in Michigan
classrooms is the MEAP test, which is used by state educators to
assess student performance. The tests are administered in five grades
on various subjects.
Each year the state publishes the MEAP scoresthe
percentage of students in each school building and district in the
state that scored at, above, or below state standards. The exhibit
presents the grades and subjects tested and the statewide results
for FY 200001.
Schools have a strong incentive to perform well on
their MEAP tests because the scores are used in school accreditation,
in giving school achievement awards (e.g., the Golden Apple),
and in awarding college scholarships (the Merit awards) to individual
students. MEAP scores are used by some parents in choosing the school
district in which their child will be educated; this decision brings
additional revenue to the district receiving the new pupil and costs
revenue for the district losing him/her.
Federal Legislation: No Child Left Behind
Standardized testing is expected to increase nationwide
in coming years due to enactment of the federal No Child Left Behind
Act of 2001. Beginning in the 200506 school year, this act
requires states, as a condition of receiving federal funding, to
test all 3d8th graders annually on reading and math. In Michigan
this will increase standardized testing substantially: Currently,
in this age group, 3d and 6th graders are not MEAP tested at all
and only 4th and 7th graders are tested in both reading and math.
Simply described, the new federal guidelines penalize
sub-performing districts that do not produce sufficient increases
in test scores over time. After two years of no improvement, schools
must permit parents to send their child to a different school and
provide transportation to the new school. Also, for students attending
persistently failing schools (that is, a school that has failed
to improve sufficiently for three of four consecutive years), the
local district must use part of its federal funding to pay for supplemental
instruction, such as tutors, for its students. These stringent federal
testing requirements are evidence that policymakers increasingly
are relying on test scores to both evaluate and improve the nations'
Accreditation, an evaluation system commonly used
in higher education, recognizes whether a school has met certain
standards set by the State Board of Education and the legislature.
Public Act 25 of 1990 initiated the state accreditation program.
Until very recently, MEAP test scores were the primary determining
factor in whether a school achieved accreditation, but in response
to objections by many to using this test as nearly the sole evaluation
tool, the State Board of Education developed a new accreditation
system that uses additional measures as well.
Potential strategies for improving education quality
are nearly limitless. Some of the most common are briefly described
Support for early-childhood education (preschool)
as a school-improvement strategy is growing. Currently, the Michigan
School Readiness Program provides preschooling for approximately
26,000 four-year-olds thought to be at risk of future academic failure.
This is a highly rated program, and studies (e.g., by the High/Scope
Educational Research Foundation) show that children who have good
early education perform better in school than do children with similar
backgrounds who have not.
Parent involvemente.g., requiring homework to
be finished on time, attending parent-teacher conferencesis
found to be a positive influence on student achievement. Michigan
recently attempted to increase parent involvement in education:
P.A. 29 of 2001 requires the Michigan Department of Education (MDE)
to develop a model voluntary contract that schools may use to encourage
parents to be more involved in their children's education.
Professional development involves improving education
through improving the knowledge, skills, and abilities of teachers
and other school professional staff. All Michigan school districts
are required to provide at least five days annually of professional
Schools of Choice and/or Charter Schools
In Michigan, parents may choose to send their child
to a public school other than the one assigned by the child's school
district. Michigan has relatively progressive alternative-schooling
laws, allowing charter schools, home schooling, and school choice
across district lines.
If the legislature and governor believe it necessary,
legislation may be enacted permitting the state to take control
of a school district in order to improve its performance. In Michigan,
the state has taken over the Detroit school districtthe state's
largestand appointed a so-called reform board to replace the
local school board.
Statewide Core Curriculum
Some states mandate that schools statewide teach a
core curriculuma standardized course of study.
Michigan has a model core curriculum that schools may use
or not, as they choose.
Technical assistance involves experts assisting struggling
districts in identifying and implementing specific actions to improve
education quality. Michigan offers some limited technical assistance
to schools exhibiting difficulty in obtaining accreditation.
There is strong disagreement about whether standardized
tests measure academic achievement or simply test-taking skills.
Opponents say that using standardized test scores to compare one
school or district to another excludes such critical factors as
parent involvement, student mobility, cultural differences, and
socioeconomic status. Some go so far as to argue that the test is
a better measure of family income than it is of a school's ability
to teach, because academic performance and income are highly correlated.
Test scores are not adjusted to reflect differences in family income
or other factors, and critics contend that this results in schools
being unfairly judged or stigmatized for matters beyond their control.
Others object to the increasing amount of time that
students spend preparing for and taking standardized tests. They
argue that teachers are forced to teach to the test
or to prepare students by teaching lessons for the sole purpose
of helping them to test well. They point out that standardized tests,
unlike tests normally given in the classroom to assess performance,
are not used to provide feedback to students to improve their performancein
fact, students typically never find out how they did on specific
Standardized-test supporters argue that taxpayers
pay billions of dollars annually for public schools and have a right
to hold schools accountablesomething they feel is not possible
absent standardized tests. Members of the business community and
others argue that classroom grade-point averages cannot be used
to compare schools, since an A in one district (or
building or classroom) does not necessarily have the same meaning
as an A in another. Giving the same test to all students,
they assert, is the only way to get an accurate comparison of student
performance. They argue that in the absence of such tests, parents,
employers, and colleges would have no objective data to tell them
whether students in one district are better or more poorly prepared
for the future than are students elsewhere. Not only are these tests
necessary to compare schools, but they also are needed to track
the performance of schools over time.
Most supporters of standardized tests have no objection
to teaching to the test. On the contrary, they assert
that this is one of the objectives of giving such a test. The MEAP
test, for example, is designed to test knowledge of subject matter
covered in the state's model core curriculum, one that supporters
believe is based on high standards. If, in giving the MEAP test,
schools are forced to teach to these high standards, students stand
only to gain. Thus, MEAP supporters say, standardized tests not
only measure student success but also contribute to it.
The state superintendent of education recently announced
a new accreditation system for Michigan schools (Education YES!)
that relies less on MEAP scores than did the earlier system. Under
Education YES!, each school building will receive an overall letter
grade plus additional letter grades for six specific indicators,
three that pertain to the MEAP test and three that do not. The overall
grade will be based primarily on MEAP test scores, which will comprise
about two-thirds (67 percent) of the score. The remaining third
will be based on other indicators, such as teacher quality and professional
development. The superintendent has created an Accreditation Advisory
Committee to develop the details of the accreditation plan and says
that schools may expect to receive their first accreditation report
in December 2002. The House and Senate must approve the new system,
although some policymakers believe that the superintendent has the
legal authority to implement the plan regardless of legislative
action (this issue is unresolved at this writing).
Education YES! is receiving some positive reaction
because it relies on factors in addition to MEAP scores. Some object
to the use of letter grades at all, stating that disadvantaged schools
are at risk of being unfairly branded with low grades. Many school-reform
proponents object to any reduced reliance on test scores, arguing
that assessment could become too soft to be a useful
evaluative tool or school-improvement incentive. Others point to
the strict new federal assessment requirements and contend that
the state accreditation system should be aligned with the federal
Other Quality Issues
State Takeover of Poorly Performing Districts
In 1999 a law was enacted directing the state to take
over the Detroit school district, which prompted intense opposition
from many Detroit lawmakers, residents, and others. The elected
school board was disbanded and a new, state-appointed board (the
reform board) took the helm. The board hired a new superintendent,
who is making administrative and other changes throughout the district.
In 2004 Detroit residents will be allowed to vote on whether to
keep the reform board or again elect a local board. While Detroit
currently is the only takeover district in Michigan, others, including
Benton Harbor, had been under takeover consideration, and the issue
is likely to resurface.
Takeover proponents argue that in poorly performing
school districts, state trustees can break through the usual
way of doing business and force change. They assert that
it is a district's students who really suffer when a district is
not performing well, and the state has a responsibility to step
in when school districts fail their students. Opponents decry the
loss of local control and suggest that more state support, such
as financial and technical assistance, would be as or more effective
in bringing about change than a state takeover.
Supporters of state-mandated basic curriculum contend
that it is the only way to ensure that students across the state
graduate with the same essential skills. Opponents argue that such
a mandate would interfere with one of the most dearly held aspects
of the Michigan public school system: local control. Supporters
of statewide adherence to a core curriculum point out that local
districts still would be free to decide how to teach the core courses
and also to offer supplemental studies.
See also Children's Early Education and Care;
K12 Funding; K12 Schooling Alternatives.
FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Mackinac Center for Public Policy
140 West Main Street
P.O. Box 568
Midland, MI 48640
(989) 832-0666 FAX
Michigan Association of School Administrators
1001 Centennial Way, Suite 300
Lansing, MI 48917
(517) 327-0771 FAX
Michigan Association of School Boards
1001 Centennial Way, Suite 400
Lansing, MI 48917
(517) 327-0775 FAX
Michigan Business Leaders for Education Excellence
Michigan Chamber of Commerce
600 South Walnut Street
Lansing, MI 48933
(517) 371-7224 FAX
Michigan Congress of Parents, Teachers and Students
1011 North Washington Avenue
Lansing, MI 48906
(517) 485-0012 FAX
Michigan Education Association
1216 Kendale Boulevard
East Lansing, MI 48826
(517) 337-5598 FAX
Office of the Superintendent
Michigan Department of Education
608 West Allegan Street
P.O. Box 30008
Lansing, MI 48909
(517) 373-4022 FAX
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, S.W.
Washington, DC 20202
(202) 401-0689 FAX
CONTENT CURRENT AS OF APRIL 1,
© 2002 Public
Sector Consultants, Inc.
Sponsored by the Michigan Nonprofit Association and the Council
of Michigan Foundations