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MDE Helping Schools Prepare for M-STEP Pre-Test Technical Assistance and Simulation Look Promising

April 6, 2015

LANSING – Preliminary testing of the online assessment system, and technology readiness monitoring of school districts by the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) are helping assure that the new M-STEP statewide assessment system will operate smoothly when the eight-week testing window opens April 13. 

“Our teams of technology and assessment specialists have been working with local and regional school districts to do test runs of the new online system,” said State Superintendent Mike Flanagan.  “We want to make sure that we troubleshoot and smooth out any bumps before the system goes statewide next week.  We want schools to be ready.”

These new assessments, called the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP), will be given to students in grades 3-8 and 11 online and will measure current student knowledge and understanding of state standards for math, English language arts, science, and social studies.

Technology Readiness

The state has invested $145 million, appropriated over the past three years in Technology Readiness Infrastructure Grants (TRIG) for education technology in Michigan.  School districts have used those grants to develop or improve their technology infrastructure, including, but not limited to, hardware and software, in preparation for the planned implementation of online assessments; and teaching and learning.

Eighty percent of Michigan school buildings, accounting for 83 percent of all students, are tech-ready for M-STEP, with the others using the optional paper-and-pencil option. The paper-and-pencil option will be available for schools through the Spring 2017 M-STEP administration.

Michigan has been piloting online assessments for the past several years to prepare for this year’s online administration. Overall, 200 school buildings and approximately 12,000 students participated in those pilot online assessments.

In an effort to help districts be as prepared as possible, MDE has been collaborating with online test delivery vendor, Data Recognition Corporation (DRC) and staff from the TRIG team with an online technology readiness initiative.

An online technology readiness diagnostic took place at 12 sites within seven Intermediate School Districts (ISDs) across the state from March 2–10. These planned visits were designed to encompass a broad spectrum of locations, technical environments, and configurations, providing a representative sample that schools could follow to configure and prepare for the Spring 2015 online assessments. 

Staff worked with each site to review software setup; network configuration; hardware and testing environment setup; specific device testing and load simulations; identify potential server utilization and capacity issues; and answer various test, configuration, best practices, and security questions.

Sites included: Ingham ISD, Waverly Schools, Waterford School District, Waterford Mott High School, Detroit Public Schools, Oakland ISD, Macomb ISD, Dort Elementary School in Flint, Roseville Middle School, Charlevoix-Emmet ISD, Boyne City High School, and Boyne City Middle School. 

M-STEP Simulation

MDE also conducted an M-STEP test simulation at Birney K-8 School in Southfield with 126 students utilizing the state's online practice test. Building-level infrastructure performance also was assessed, validating the schools ability to deliver the assessment online.  The simulation was carried out without any technical disruption.

Prior to the simulation, Birney school staff had familiarized students over a two-week period with the state's Online Training Tools.  These training tools for students and teachers have been available to all schools since February 25, when the necessary testing software became available for schools to install.

"I would like to thank the schools and districts for opening their doors to allow us to see firsthand how schools are preparing for our new online assessment, and the value of getting the students familiar with testing online," Flanagan said.  "These locations served as valuable learning laboratories and allow others to benefit from their experiences."

Since last December, MDE has provided weekly information and updates on the 2015 M-STEP administration through its Spotlight on Student Assessment and Accountability electronic newsletter to every school district. Technology information, best practice tips, and reminders have been routinely included in that newsletter. 

Schools and districts have been instructed to follow the Technology User Guide to setup their testing environments, validating the accuracy and usability of the guide.  Multiple online technology trainings and Question & Answer sessions for building and district technology staff also have been conducted by MDE.

Test Administration Support

To assist schools and districts during the test administration window, the department has established statewide "Tiger Team" designed to quickly respond to, and support, schools and districts. The teams includes staff from: MDE, DRC, TRIG and select ISDs.  These teams will respond by phone or, depending on need, will be dispatched to school locations whenever possible throughout the state. 

"Our teams have worked extraordinarily hard to help schools prepare for this first year of online assessments across the state,” Flanagan said.  “The tools, technical assistance, and support have been available to schools for months to ensure software and systems are working and provide students with an opportunity to take an online practice test, prior to the real testing.”

To best suit school schedules and technology capabilities, districts are given the flexibility to administer grade 3-8 tests during a three-week window and grade 11 tests during the entire eight-week window.  Test windows are open from April 13 through June 5, 2015.

Michigan’s MI-Access alternate assessment can be administered on any instructional day over a seven-week period from April 13 – May 29, 2015.