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Focus on Early Childhood, Literacy Begin to Show Positive Results on M-STEP

August 29, 2018

LANSING – The state’s focus and investment into early childhood and early literacy programming over the past several years is beginning to show positive outcomes in statewide testing results, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) said today.

Third and fourth grade scores on the English language arts M-STEP test showed modest gains this year; this represents one of the few highlights in this year’s results. Another highlight is an increase in the 11thgrade Social Studies scores – from 46 percent proficient last year to 48.5 percent on this year’s Michigan Merit Exam (MME) this past spring.

“The third and fourth-graders in school today are the kids who are benefitting from the investments in early childhood education programs over the past several years,” said Interim State Superintendent Sheila Alles. “We want to thank Governor Snyder and state legislature for their persistent commitment to early childhood education that is beginning to bear fruit.

“These are the footholds we need in our ambitious efforts to make Michigan a Top 10 education state in 10 years.”

From a funding level of $108 million in 2012, the state steadily increased spending in the Great Start Readiness Program and has invested over $243 million there in each of the last four years. In addition to hefty investments in early childhood education, the state also is continuing its statewide collaborative efforts to improve literacy.

Three years ago, Michigan identified early literacy gaps as a focus area for policy and program support for learners, and established a set of initial support mechanisms to address the learning gaps. These programs have since been initiated with educators.

The programs, created and funded by the state legislature, support specific recommendations to ensure that all students have strong literacy skills to read by grade three. These include:

  • Added instructional time grants that support districts in providing additional targeted supports for students who struggle in reading and other literacy skills;
  • Literacy coaches at intermediate school districts (ISD) who provide direct assistance to school districts and public school academies to address instructional needs to help students;
  • Assessment reimbursement grants to support districts in the use of screening and diagnostic tools to help identify specific student needs, so they can receive targeted support; and
  • Professional learning funds to support the creation of a literacy coach network and resources for educators to learn and implement best practices to support all students – as well as students with specialized literacy learning needs, including English Learners, students with disabilities, and other students who may struggle to demonstrate these skills.

MDE also is in the process of distributing to school districts $20 million the state legislature appropriated for additional instructional time to pupils in grades K-3 who have been identified as needing additional supports and interventions in order to be reading at grade level by the end of third grade.

Several organizations are partnering with MDE to provide a consistent, coherent support infrastructure, so that all early literacy efforts are focused on the same needs. MDE and Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators (MAISA) teamed up with several literacy experts to form a task force to develop the Essential Instructional Practices for different learners, including K-3, early learners, and now adolescent and young adult learners.

These efforts have just begun to reach Michigan educators, students in child care settings, and classrooms throughout the state. As they become more fully implemented, more of Michigan’s children will have the literacy skills they need to succeed.

A goal of Michigan’s Action Plan for Literacy Excellence is to support educators of all students, including families, in literacy. MDE has defined the principles of family engagement and will use the principles to create a family engagement framework. Part of the family engagement workgroup’s strategy is to support families in understanding the Read by Grade Three law. 

“More work needs to be done on English language arts in the upper grades, and math and Social Studies overall,” Alles said. “State assessment results, when combined with classroom work, report cards, local district assessments, and other tools, offer a comprehensive view of student achievement.

To reduce testing time as required in state law, the M-STEP was adjusted in each grade level. Some grade levels saw minor adjustments, other grades like 5thand 8thgrade ELA, saw a more significant adjustment in the removal of the ELA Performance Tasks, and introducing a new long constructed-response essay. The performance task was also removed from all grades of mathematics.

This year’s M-STEP results do not include statewide or school-level scores for the science tests given in grades five, eight, and 11, due to a large-scale field test of the new science assessment system underway.

The adoption of Michigan’s new science standards in Fall 2015 created the need to replace past versions of Michigan’s M-STEP science assessment with a redesigned science system, aligned to the updated science content standards. 

MDE’s Office of Educational Assessment and Accountability is well underway in the development of the new science assessment and conducted a large-scale field-test of new grade 5, 8, and 11 assessments this past spring.  

While these new assessments continue to be computer-based, they do involve a variety of new item types and test designs that have not been used in past science assessments in Michigan. The purpose of the field test is to verify that the questions measure the updated content standards. Student proficiency is not calculated with field test assessments and individual results are not reported. 

MDE has prepared a waiver request to the U.S. Department of Education that will allow Michigan to not double-test or report student scores for two years during the field testing period. This would alleviate the burden on students to do the required field testing of the new assessment and take an old assessment on the old standards for the mere purpose of having reportable scores. Student participation in the field test is required, however.

Local school districts will receive district-level aggregate results to get a general view of how their students performed on the science field test and is not intended to provide any indication of student proficiency.

The M-STEP testing was done during a seven-week window this spring. Preliminary results were available to school districts within 24-48 hours. Ninety-nine percent of schools and students are tested online, up from 80 percent in 2015.

Local school district and building M-STEP results are available at Downloadable data is available at