Monday, September 19, 2016

M-Stepping those Results Right into the Trashcan

I received my daughter's 4th grade M-Step results in the mail yesterday. 

I had not seen the results report before; two years ago, I opted her out. But last year, in a co-parenting compromise with my ex-husband, I allowed my daughter to take the test.

You will be happy to know that my daughter is 100% adequate. Or, to be specific, she is making "adequate progress." I was surprised at the naming of this progress indicator, since her scores are in the "Advanced" range in Math and English Language Arts, and at the very top edge of the "Proficient" range in Science. But, for a 4th grader approximately 1/3 of the way through her K-12 education, her progress is deemed as adequate. One must suppose then, that her teachers have also been adequate and her school is pretty adequate.

I question the use of this terminology; does "adequate" seem "proficient" or "advanced" to you? I realize that this word, according to google, means "satisfactory or acceptable."  But I challenge you to use this word in conversation and see how it is perceived. In fact, next time you are eating a dinner that your significant other prepared, I dare you to announce that it is "adequate." And next time you and your significant other are in the midst of...ahem...a romantic physical encounter, I challenge you to announce that he or she is "making adequate progress." I look forward to hearing about the ensuing conversations. Go ahead and get back to me with the results.

I'll wait right here.

While I'm waiting to hear about the progress you've made in your relationship, I'll talk a bit more about this M-Step report. The math section is divided into 4 claims which then report into 3 sections. And the Performance Level Indicators are reported in 4 color-coded bands, which then report out into 3 Claim Performance Indicators, illustrated by pointy-up and pointy-down triangles. Clearly, this report earns a yellow circle (Attention may be indicated) on the math claims of "2/4: Problem Solving, Modeling & Data Analysis" because of the fundamental confusion of the modeling and data analysis in this report.

The report itself is so...ahem...inadequate. For example, the color-coded Performance Bands at the top of each section read from left to right. The left indicator is Not Proficient, and the right side is Advanced. However, the Performance Level Descriptors at the bottom of the page begin with "Advanced" on the left and move to "Not Proficient" at the right. Who created this graphic? Why would a performance band read from left to right in the visual section of the graphic and then from right to left in the explanations? And then, for the sake of clarity, the Science section is broken into disciplines with points earned/possible points reported. No pointy-up or pointy-down triangles in science. Science gets Numbers! And science is apparently so unscientific, that the margin of error spans 3 performance levels. Luckily, my daughter may possibly be partially proficient, proficient, or advanced, but she is not to be deemed adequate in science.

I dare you to ask a 4th grader what is wrong with this report. Have them analyze the modeling and the data analysis. Have them explain to you what this report means. I look forward to hearing about those conversations.

I'll wait right here.

As an avid reader and an English teacher, I was highly relieved to learn that my daughter is also making adequate progress in English Language Arts. But, before you congratulate me on her very adequate score, I would like to question what this score is actually an indicator of. Any English teacher knows that this score is not a reflection of progress and preparation. This score is a measure of how many books are in a student's home. This score is a reflection of what the child ate for breakfast, and what the educational level is of the child's parents, and how many jobs those parents have to work to put food on the table. My daughter lives in a home that has 4 full walls of books. She has access to fresh produce daily and she gets 3 full meals a day. Between her parents and her grandparents, we together hold 10 post-secondary degrees. Her ELA score is an indication of exactly that.

I challenge you to go into the homes of the students who are pointy-down triangles (most at risk of falling behind). I challenge you to count the number of apples in their refrigerators. I challenge you to count the books in their homes, and the number of advanced degrees their parents hold. And then I challenge you to go into their communities and count the libraries. Count the grocery stores. Count the parks. Count the museums. I look forward to hearing those numbers. I would like them reported out in real numbers, not in pointy-up and pointy-down triangles, please.

I'll wait right here.

The State of Michigan, to its credit, is very concerned about the M-Step scores. Students are scoring very poorly on this test that has been redesigned two times in the two years it has been administered. And so, the State, based on M-Step scores, is threatening to take aggressive action and "rid the state of failing schools." Instead of spending time and resources making sure that schools have the resources they need, the State will close those failing schools. They might also create a new test, administered 3 times a year, to replace the current test that replaced the old test that replaced the test before that one. Because clearly, the answer to poor test scores is more testing.

I would instead challenge the State to do something truly revolutionary. I would challenge them to go into those failing schools and make sure that there are enough teachers there to teach the students. I would challenge them to make sure that the schools had enough funding to buy chairs. I would challenge them to make sure that students have access to community supports and a standard of living that allows for walls full of books and access to museums and to higher education and to apples.

I challenge the State to actually do something about it, instead of forcing students to sit on milk crates to take more meaningless tests that result in poorly designed nonsensical reports. I challenge the State to make adequate progress.

I'll wait right here.