M-STEP: a parent’s guide. What you need to know before your children take Michigan’s mandatory exams

Monday will mark the beginning of Michigan’s annual testing season — eight weeks that will help determine whether all the academic lessons and practice exams paid off for schools across the state.

Parents, here are nine things you’ll need to know about this year’s Michigan Student Test for Educational Progress — also known as the M-STEP — which will include tests for students from grades 3-11 that will mostly be taken online.

More time to test students

January was a tough time for schools, with heavy snow and frigid temperatures forcing schools to shut down for days at a time. And while you likely had to scramble to find child care for your children, all that time off also meant lost instructional time in the classroom.

So, officials at the Michigan Department of Education have given schools an extra week in which to test students. That extra time means some schools might delay the beginning of testing from next week until the following week in order to get in as much learning as possible.

The extra time, though, only helps students taking Michigan-produced exams. National exams, like the SAT, can’t be rescheduled so they will be administered as previously scheduled.

New exam for some middle school students

Your eighth-grader will take a different exam this year. In addition to state-produced tests in social studies and science, the eighth-graders will also take the PSAT — a practice exam for the SAT — in literacy and math. The PSAT will also be given to students in grades 9 and 10, as it has in previous years.

Know when your child will be tested

Schools will test students at various points over the next eight weeks, according to this assessment schedule. Kids in grades 5, 8 and 11, for instance, can be tested anytime between Monday and May 10. Grades 3, 4, 6 and 7 can be tested between April 29 and May 31. High school juniors will take the SAT on Tuesday, with April 23 reserved as a makeup date. See the schedule for more test dates.

What are the stakes?

You may be wondering what’s at stake if your child fails the state exam. That’s something that will be determined on a school-by-school and student-by-student basis. There are bigger stakes for schools, though. Persistent low performance on state exams could get a school identified for improvement, and failure to improve could result in sanctions that include closure.

Meanwhile, state law requires that 40% of a teacher’s year-end evaluation must be based on student growth and assessment data (though current legislation would lower it to 25%). This school year, the law requires that half of the growth and assessment data being used must be based on the state exam for those teachers who teach subjects tested on the exam.

Is my kid going to be held back?

You’ve probably heard a lot of discussion about Michigan’s tough third-grade reading law, which requires students be held back if their performance on state exams shows they’re reading a year or more below grade level.

That provision, though, doesn’t kick in until the 2019-20 school year, so this year’s third-graders are safe. But if your child is a struggling second-grader this year, you’ll want to ensure that he or she is getting the proper interventions to guard against retention next year.

When you’ll see the results

Your child may take the exam in April, but it’ll be awhile before you actually see the results. Jan Ellis, a spokeswoman for the MDE, said parents should get reports prior to the beginning of the next school year.

“We are working hard with vendors to ensure that will continue to happen, even with the extra time allotted,” she said.

You’re probably wondering why it takes so long to get back the results of an exam that’s taken on the computer. But keep in mind that there are some components of the exam, such as essays and open-ended questions, that must be hand-scored. That work will happen during the summer, Ellis said.

Want to help your child prepare?

The MDE has a handy web site where your child can view and answer a number of sample questions by grade level and subject. These aren’t actual questions from the exam, but they reflect the kind of questions students will encounter when faced with the real thing.

What else?

Parents, you may have even more questions about the state exams. Confused about all the different types of exams your child has to take during the school year? This guide breaks down the different types of tests. Here, you can find more details about the M-STEP. Find out what to do to help your child prepare for the M-STEP here. This video gives students a short breakdown of what to expect.