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Michigan schools to keep current state exam

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2013 14:44 PM

The Michigan Board of Education announced last week that its schools will continue to use the current state exam for the 2014-2015 school year.

Schools will continue to track students' progress with the Smarter Balanced Assessment until a BOE committee reviews the benefits of using such an exam in 2016. A proposal to begin the formal process of looking for other adequate exams is set for the start of next year.

Reasons for delay
The recommendation to review the merits of the Smarter Balanced Assessment has a lot to do with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Michigan's House of Representatives decided just over a month ago to allow the Board of Education to resume funding for the implementation of the Standards in state schools. The education department's attempt to use the Standards state-wide was delayed due to a legislative vote to pause funding for CCSS.

The Common Core State Standards, which were adopted by Michigan in 2010, are academic benchmarks designed to help K-12 students acquire specific knowledge in preparation for college and careers. Many of the Standards' benchmarks are being integrated into the state's school systems in an effort to help students develop skills like analysis, critical thinking and multiple levels of reasoning, as opposed to rote memorization and information regurgitation. Michigan, like the other 44 states that have adopted the Standards, hopes to see higher academic achievement from students by promoting the higher standards CCSS calls for.

Options for other exams
Many educators in the state believe that the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which tests students based on the CCSS, will benefit school systems by providing a base for accountability and a means of tracking student academic progress. There is a bit of controversy, however, over the possibility of a conflict of interest. Lawmakers expressed concerns that reviews on the effectiveness of the exam might be biased because of the state's adoption of CCSS.

State legislature has made proposals to acquire independent reviews that would provide an objective report of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  A spokesperson for Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger said that a legislative review would be tentatively set for sometime in January 2014. According to Judy Pritchett, chief academic officer for the Macomb Intermediate School District, students deserve a fair test that accurately shows how well they are doing against the Common Core State Standards.

"Up until this point, Smarter Balanced has been the only thing anyone has talked about seriously at the state level," Pritchett told the Battle Creek Enquirer. "Michigan has been right there at the beginning."