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Back To School Report: Standardized Testing Changes

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When Jennifer Tanks' daughter starts school this week, she will be asking questions about the tests her daughter will have to take.

"The third years... the total added up of all three tests totaled almost 25 hours in one of the classrooms I'm told," she said.

For Jennifer, that's too much.

"It makes me sad that really valuable instruction time is being spent assessing students, trying to figure our what they know versus teaching them something new," Jennifer said.

For the Michigan Department of Education, assessments are a necessity.

"The state is doing a statewide assessment to say 'these are our standards, are the students learning it?'" said Martin Ackley, with the Michigan Department of Education. "Are the students getting a year's worth of education for a year's worth of instruction?"

The state-issued M-STEP test began last spring, taking place of the MEAP, which the state calls outdated.

"Not just multiple choice questions," said Ackley. "We're asking them to problem solve, think critically, things employers are looking for."

While M-STEP helps the state see if they're hitting targets, they don't get results until the following school year. So districts have their own assessments, with more immediate feedback.

"Districts use a number of different assessments," said Christine Guitar, Chief of Communications at Traverse City Area Public Schools. "Those are designed to help at the student and district level to figure out how we're doing and make adjustments in real time."

While the state, local districts and parents seem to agree there needs to be a balance when it comes to instruction versus testing, they don't agree on how to get there.

"My fear is that we've become more trustworthy of that then of the professionalism of our own teachers," Tank said. "I know they feel less trusted and less capable."

But there is compromise in sight.

"Superintendent Whiston is having us look at what districts administer at school and at the state level and see if we can work together," Ackley said.

The state has already made improvements to the M-STEP after getting feedback from students and parents.

This year, testing time will be 2.5 hours shorter for elementary and middle school students.

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High school students' testing time will be reduced by 8 hours.

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