Optional testing causes M-Step attendance to hit record low


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During a year with many twists and turns, the newest one came as a pleasant surprise to juniors in the Ann Arbor Public Schools: all standardized testing was made optional and waived as a graduation requirement. 

In past years, Ann Arbor Public Schools needed to administer standardized tests to 95% of students in the district, but not anymore.

After initial surprise and jubilation, juniors across the district then had to make a choice about which tests, if any, they should choose to take. Out of the three tests offered, the most popular one was the SAT because of the real-life relevance that it carries. 

If students were satisfied with their scores, they would have the option to send the scores to colleges during their senior year. However, during the pandemic, many colleges have made standardized testing scores optional on their applications, which gives students more flexibility on choosing colleges. Even so, to keep their options open, 365 juniors at Pioneer High School took the English and math based-SAT this year.

Another test that the district offers is the ACT Workkeys, which tests math, language arts, and science in application to working. Because colleges do not accept this test, only 78 juniors at Pioneer took the Workkeys this year.

Finally, students had the option of taking the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP), which tests science and social studies. A wildly unpopular test, only 38 Pioneer juniors showed up to take the M-STEP.

“I feel that I shouldn’t spend my time on a test that won’t affect me in any way,” said Pioneer junior Ethan Steiner. 

He is not alone. Many students feel the M-STEP has no meaning in their academic career, and that it would be more beneficial to save themselves stress and effort. 

“Now I don’t need to wake up early and take this test that doesn’t matter to me,” said Steiner. He also said that he will do asynchronous schoolwork during the time that he would otherwise have been taking the M-STEP. 

Likely a large part of why many juniors find it beneath them to take the M-STEP is that they don’t know what its significance is. Until 2015, the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) test was offered, but they replaced it with the M-STEP, which has fewer multiple choice questions. 

Despite there being fewer multiple choice questions, there are “more questions that require problem solving and critical thinking skills,” said Pioneer Assistant Principal Jason Skiba. 

The stated purpose of the M-STEP is to inform students of what they need to work on the most in post-high school education and work, which theoretically could make it useful. The state of Michigan also uses the scores to evaluate how well schools are doing at teaching students what they need to know. “If many students get an answer wrong, for example, a school looks at how to teach that material better in the classroom,” said Skiba.

Even Steiner admitted that there is a good purpose to the M-STEP: “It is good to see how different schools in Michigan compare to each other, so they can figure out how to allocate resources.” He said.

Many teachers have stressed the importance of the data that is collected from the M-STEP.  The lack of M-STEP takers could signal a potential problem within the AAPS system in receiving financial support based on the data shown in this test results.

The M-STEP is considered an easier test than others, such as the SAT. It is a measly two hours long, and unlike with the SAT, there isn’t much of a point in studying for the M-STEP. “The M-STEP is built to show what students have already learned so there’s no way to cram for it. I suggest students take their time and read each question thoroughly,” said Skiba.

This year, it was up to students and parents to decide if the M-STEP would be taken. Next year, it may or may not be optional. However, this year has shown that the M-STEP is quite controversial and decisions about whether or not to take it should not be considered lightly.