You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Ann Arbor school officials weigh in on student testing and 'opt-out' possibilities

By Danielle Arndt


The topic of student testing and student test data has taken center stage at the Ann Arbor Public Schools recently. file photo

Previous related coverage:

Testing became a hot topic last week at the Ann Arbor Public Schools. And school board members were eager to join the discussion, weighing in on the subject of opting out and the district’s rationale behind so many tests.

Students in grades 3 through 9 began taking the state-required Michigan Educational Assessment Program exam on Tuesday. The same day, a group of parents from AAPS launched a petition to garner support for asking the district administration to stop testing students so frequently.

The petition’s primary target is the Northwest Evaluation Association’s Measures of Academic Progress exam, which the district added to the testing lineup last fall. Students take the test three times per year to assess their growth.

Superintendent Patricia Green and members of the district’s instructional services team presented a comprehensive report on student achievement data to the Board of Education on Wednesday night.

It highlighted up to five years of test scores from each of the following: the MEAP, Michigan Merit Exam, NWEA MAP, College Readiness standards and the ACT.

While school district administrators have plans to analyze the data further, a few trends have emerged already. Among them is improvement among African American students as a group. MEAP and MME test score data show that black students increased their proficiency at higher rates than the overall student body at most grade levels.

Another pattern district leaders see is either a lack of growth or a decrease in the percentage of students proficient in some cohorts on the MEAP test in grades 5, 6 and 8. The trustees and administrators spent a great deal of time talking about this issue and how the data can help them understand why this may be happening.

“When we’re talking about the MEAP test that is administered to sixth-graders, what is happening is that the MEAP is given in early October and it basically reflects what was learned over the previous year,” said Board Secretary Andy Thomas. “So this is really a decrease at the fifth-grade level not at the sixth-grade level, am I interpreting this correctly?”


Patricia Green

Green said Thomas was correct, except she added more than likely the problem is a disconnect with how the fifth- and sixth-grade curricula mesh together. She explained that NWEA testing, when multiple years of data are available, will allow the district to pinpoint which areas of instruction need adjusting and during which lessons and units children are falling behind.

“So then this is really an excellent example of how the MEAP, in essence, is really looking in the rearview mirror and seeing where you were a year ago,” Thomas said. “And I think this really emphasizes the point that we need current-year assessments throughout the year. This is what we’re getting with the NWEA.

“I know there is continuing pushback regarding the NWEA. But I think that it’s very important for the public to understand the rather extreme limitations of looking at MEAP data and the importance of having that current-year data that measures student growth in real time, as opposed to looking in the rearview mirror.”

Green said the thing to remember is that the MEAP is not an individual student’s test, to show how a student is progressing.

“It’s there to judge a school or to judge a school district, whereas the NWEA is very specific to measure (students) growth so we can personalize and develop personalized learning plans … and better inform instruction,” she said.

“It reminds me of the saying ‘the right tool for the right job,’” added Board President Deb Mexicotte. “The jeweler’s screwdriver versus the sledgehammer - they’re both useful, they’re just useful in different contexts.”

Trustee Glenn Nelson asked for more information on why the decision was made to drop the fall NWEA testing for kindergartners this year, permitting them to be tested in January and May only, during the second and third rounds of the exam.

District officials previously reported the decision was the result of feedback central administration received from building principals and parents. Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education Dawn Linden said on Wednesday that the kindergartners really struggled developmentally with the test in the fall. She said many kindergartners were in tears last year.


Susan Baskett

“They really just didn’t have the stamina built up yet for that type of an assessment experience,” she said, adding it went much smoother during the winter testing round in 2011-12.

Trustee Susan Basket acknowledged there are various sects of the Ann Arbor parent community who are adamantly opposed to testing — the NWEA assessment in particular. She asked what the drawbacks would be to giving parents an “opt-out” option.

“What are the ramifications of never having the children take the NWEA?” she said. “If we allow for an opt-out at this point, … could we potentially jeopardize the child’s future academic career by not having this data and showing the progress?”

“It’s like a piece of the puzzle is missing,” said Deputy Superintendent for Instruction Alesia Flye. “If a classroom teacher has all of this data on all of her students and she’s setting plans, she can tell, ’20 of my kids missed a skill and this is what I need to do for those 20.’ These are the conversations teachers are having. And I do think it would disadvantage the student if their piece of the puzzle wasn’t in the equation. … And the teacher couldn’t have the appropriate conversation with that family without that specific instructional data.”

Trustee Simone Lightfoot asked whether the district intends to look at doing away with some of its other assessments now that the NWEA has been put into place.

The district is analyzing the possibilities, Flye said. She said more than likely AAPS will not eliminate any tests but rather look at making slight adjustments in the number of cycles, like what was done for the kindergartners this year, or in the timing and scheduling of the tests.

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Tue, Oct 16, 2012 : 12:50 a.m.

Wait, the MEAP is state-*required*? I skipped taking it back in high school, just hung out in the cafeteria...


Tue, Oct 16, 2012 : 12:14 a.m.

As I watched student after student get themselves worked up into nervous messes during the NWEA, and then straight into the MEAP. I wondered then if parents could opt out. As a parent and a future educator, I understand how important it is to know your students academic strengths/weaknesses so that we can tailor our curriculum to fit their needs. I was under the impression that this was already taking place. Am I wrong in assuming that?


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 10:38 p.m.

From the blog Ann Arbor Schools Musings: The [Smarter Balanced Assessment Test to arrive in 2013-14] is a test that students will take on a computer. As such it is expected to replace both the MEAP and the MAP, in which case I have to ask why we are spending hundreds of thousands of acquiring the NWEA, getting the technology that allows us to use it, and training teachers on administrators on it--when it will be replaced in two years. I re-quote here, because it is an excellent question.

Cendra Lynn

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 8:51 p.m.

These tests do not measure learning or knowledge. They measure test-taking abilities. Standardized tests, by definition, cannot measure individual progress, as there are no standardized students. Qualitative abilities cannot be measured quantitatively. Transference of qualitative information to quantitative data benefits those who wish for quick methods to see how an individual is learning. This benefits only administrators, and then only when they can convince others that their results are meaningful. The ability to function in our children's future world cannot be measured because their world is unknown. The rate of change of technology and its impact on all other areas of life increases logarithmically. Creativity and team work are two main qualities they will need. Facts, topics, mathematics, etc. can be gathered instantly as needed. Critical thinking, imagination, investigation of areas of interest are what is needed to prepare people to function well in the future. This testing serves none of those goals.

Alan Benard

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 8:50 p.m.

Stop the testing. Throw out this board.

Macabre Sunset

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 5:57 p.m.

If your child is crying or wetting her pants over the prospect of a test where there's not even a slight penalty for failure like a bad grade (which would be inappropriate at that age), you have not done your job as a parent preparing her for school. The problem with the Ann Arbor school system is that it focuses entirely on trying to fix the damage bad parents are doing to their children. If you have a child, you have a responsibility both to her and to society to mold her into someone who can help society grow. Too many parents are, instead, creating helpless little parasites.

Alan Benard

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 8:53 p.m.

Speaking of bullying.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 6:05 p.m.



Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 5:40 p.m.

I would highly recommend that the district give parents the option of having their students opt out of the standardized tests. According to the state, the revised school code says: 380.10 Rights of parents and legal guardians; duties of public schools. Sec. 10. It is the natural, fundamental right of parents and legal guardians to determine and direct the care, teaching, and education of their children. The public schools of this state serve the needs of the pupils by cooperating with the pupil's parents and legal guardians to develop the pupil's intellectual capabilities and vocational skills in a safe and positive environment

Macabre Sunset

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 5:58 p.m.

Yes, you should have the right to home school. Go do it.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 5:11 p.m.

An extremely timely article in the NYT on using scores as the basis to judge teacher competence:

Dog Guy

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 11:21 p.m.

Macabre Sunset. except for ads and crossword, the NYT is all advocacy.

Macabre Sunset

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 6 p.m.

We need to teach our children to differentiate between an editorial and a news article. Of course, the media isn't helping lately by blending the two, but, at least the NYT tries this time to label opinion appropriately.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 5:05 p.m.

Although quantitive numbers often feel more rigorous and substantial, I have serious concerns about the NWEA and the used of the data. For example, how do we interpret slight changes in numbers over the course of a year or numbers that vary wildly or barely at all. If we have students who are doing well on the MAP, what will the teacher or district do to help this student excel given the limited resources we are currently facing across schools? And importantly I would like AAPS to specify how these data will be used to measure student growth as it relates to teacher evaluation? By 2014, the state will require about half of a teacher's performance to be based on student growth. Is the NWEA the AAPS's answer to judging our teachers? Please remember that eleven years after NCLB, the US continues to fall behind other countries in both our testing and in our attitude towards public education and teachers. If we want to excel like Finland and Singapore, perhaps we ought to look at not only how these countries test their students but also how the societal at large perceives public education and their support of teachers and teaching, for more see:


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 5:57 p.m.

Yes, that is absolutely correct. So does that mean the district will need to adopt a different test to help gauge student academic growth? I would hope not, but I am not sure how the district plans to evaluate student growth in evaluating our teachers. I would like to see more time and discussion devoted to this, as I don't want the NWEA to be a back-door way to evaluate teacher effectiveness. Then this again begs the question - what is the ultimate aim and utility of the NWEA MAP?


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 5:38 p.m.

The NWEA MAP test was not developed to do teacher evaluation, and according to NWEA itself, should not be used for teacher evaluation.

Linda Peck

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 4:42 p.m.

Looks like the talks last week had no impact from the perspective of parents and children who are unhappy about all of the testing. Once again, this appears to be a lack of choices in public school education.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 4:42 p.m.

Wow! Nothing says "you will hate school" more than a standardized test (developmentally inappropriate by the way) for Kindergartners. There should not zero standardized tests in K-1.

Dog Guy

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 1:11 p.m.

Are tests the only reading assignments that schoolkids ever get now?


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 2:07 p.m.

They need to do this starting in Preschool. Something parents think are all fun and games. Sorry, but I got mine started early. Still hates school but what else is new.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 12:54 p.m.

So, how many times, exactly, do you think we need to test, for example, reading comprehension, within a period of, say three weeks? Cuz right now, we're doing it FOUR TIMES -- MEAP, NWEA, SRI, and one-on-one reading together. Four times! Good grief. No teacher needs that. No student needs that.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 12:49 p.m.

I didn't know the petition was targeting NWEA. If anything, I think NWEA is much better than MEAP. At least NWEA is (claims to be) tailored to each student. My kids always feel that MEAP is extremely easy and test days are fun because they finish the tests very quickly and then use the spare time to read on their own. My kids also feel that NWEA is fun because it's just like doing puzzles on the computer and kids have fun figuring out how far they can go. Plus, the results of NWEA go back to the teachers soon after the testing and teachers can use them to help design study groups, whereas MEAP results come back when the school year is almost over.


Tue, Oct 16, 2012 : 12:29 a.m.

Let me be the first to say that the children that are in grades 3,4 and 5 are not all smiles when they are taking the MEAP. These children are concentrating on the information that they are reading and re-reading in order to answer the test correctly. Those few children who do get finished maybe 4-5 minutes earlier than their classmates do get to quietly enjoy a book, but trust me NO one is smiling.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 5:31 p.m.

The petition is not particularly targeting the NWEA, it is targeting over-testing. However, the NWEA is a test that the district chooses to include or not include, whereas the MEAP is a mandated test from the state. The petition is focused on the school district, and it is not reasonable to expect that the school board could drop the MEAP. Could they drop NWEA, FastMath, SRI, etc? Yes.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 3:51 p.m.

No doubt.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 2:15 p.m.

Yes, it's a shame we can't get rid of the MEAP and keep the NWEA.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 12:21 p.m.

So nobody had an idea that those kindergarteners might have a problem with testing BEFORE the fact? Aren't these people supposedly expert in this kind of stuff?


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 12:18 p.m.

J.A. Pieper, the main reason I would NOT allow teachers to opt their classes out of NWEA has to do with maintaining a more detailed knowledge of how each student is doing compared to standards for grade-level performance that apply across the district and across the nation. My experience over the past few years is that different teachers, even in the same AAPS building, teach VERY different content and have dramatically different standards for the same grade level. Perhaps parents should be allowed to opt their students out of NWEA. Certainly, teachers and parents in collaboration should be able to set the grade level a student should be tested at if it is different from the usual level for that student's age. One excellent thing about computerized tests is that they can be individualized so as to be meaningful measures of student learning. Testing a 14 year old who reads at 3rd grade level on 8th grade English Language Arts is pretty near useless. But finding out if they have progressed at least one year per year of instruction by having them take the 4th grade test is VERY useful to both teachers and parents.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 11:46 a.m.

This discussion missed two tests: the SRI (Scholastic Reading Inventory) is yet another computerized reading test which was given to most children 3rd grade and above. In elementary schools, it was administered the same time frame as the NWEA (which is also a reading test.) And then, in elementary schools, teachers are doing individual one-on-one reading assessments of each student. Why three assessments to get information on how well a student is reading?

Pete Warburton

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 11:06 a.m.

Based on my experience as a School Counselor for 33 years....Parents should have the right to have their children opt-out of any and all standardized testing. The School District can make that an option for NWEA , but the State of Michigan will not allow a parent or school district to let a student opt-out of the MEAP. So much for local control !


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 2:06 p.m.

This is because they are going to be forced to take it before they get into college. This is why we have the ACT and SAT. Can't have it without it. I hate to say it though, even if your child flunks out? They still move up and out to graduation.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 10:55 a.m.

I am wondering why the Board is not talking about the fact that the mandatory MEAP is going to be replaced by a computer-adaptive test just like the NWEA in less than two years now. Is the district planning on having TWO nearly identical series of computer adaptive tests then? They keep saying how great all the data they get from NWEA is in informing instruction. But that's not at all what I'm hearing from the teachers I talk to, who already know how their students are doing (there are already so many other classroom assessments and tests! Reading comprehension SRI, fast math, etc, in addition to the teachers' observations day to day), and who feel that the NWEA takes up way too much valuable instruction time, and helps make the entire fall basically ALL about testing. Why don't we just use some common sense.... If a teacher likes the NWEA and feels it helps him/her, then make it available. If not, then let the teacher opt out for his/her class. I know, radical, right? Allowing the teacher to decide what he needs?


Tue, Oct 16, 2012 : 1:22 p.m.

SuperiorMother, I hear you, I think yours is a great example why parents like us are not so eager to embrace the "teacher knows best" idea--because sometimes teachers don't know. They may not have the training and the insight, or the resources, or there may be other issues. We've had experiences as well in which caring, responsible, and well-regarded teachers create a year-long nightmare for the kids whose abilities and styles are misunderstood. It will be great if we find better alternatives than standardized testing, if we can make sure that every testing that we do actually has a point and can contribute to our children's growth. But "leave it to teachers" won't be a strong argument for you and me.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 5:56 p.m.

"If one has always had the good fortune of having competent, understanding teachers, one may easily reach the conclusion that teachers know best. If one has had trouble with incompetent teachers, or (maybe worse) caring and responsible teachers who simply don't understand certain types of students, then some "outside" evaluation would mean a huge deal to students and parents. And in some of these cases, I don't think group evaluation would be helpful." a2schoolparent, I'd even expand upon this to say that if one has always had the experience of children whose accomplishments in school accurately reflect their abilities/level, then maybe testing seems excessive or pointless. In my sixth-grader's case, he's very smart (I know, I know, aren't they all? but he really is) but has problems getting his work done and turned in. Not enough to require an IEP or any sort of intervention, but enough that his grades in two classes don't come close to reflecting his abilities or his actual knowledge level. If the NWEA (or a similarly responsive test) helps teachers identify where students need help and where they might excel, I'm all for it. Maybe they notice a disparity between NWEA scores and school grades and realize that maybe there's something they can do to help that child achieve. Again, if the revised, mandatory MEAP is as responsive and immediate as the NWEA, I'm all for ditching the NWEA and keeping the new MEAP. I just don't think the MEAP helps individual students or teachers in ANY way, in large part because of the lag in providing the student's scores.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 5 p.m.

A2anon: apology accepted. But I suspect things are not as easy as we hope they are. And I think people's views on testing and on teachers' trustworthiness are shaped at least partially by their experience. If one has always had the good fortune of having competent, understanding teachers, one may easily reach the conclusion that teachers know best. If one has had trouble with incompetent teachers, or (maybe worse) caring and responsible teachers who simply don't understand certain types of students, then some "outside" evaluation would mean a huge deal to students and parents. And in some of these cases, I don't think group evaluation would be helpful. As for testing, I agree that redundant, badly-designed, and useless tests should absolutely go away (and I still think NWEA is better than MEAP). But even at the present, things could be better if people make different choices about tests. Teachers are free to choose not to teach to the test. Parents can choose not to make a big deal about test scores and regard them truly as a way to identify areas where each student needs help. I don't think students are stressed out about test, I think they are stressed out about the CONSEQUENCES of bad test scores SuperiorMother: I totally agree with you.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 3:53 p.m.

a2schoolparent, I apologize for my sarcasm. You are right. I just shivered at the use of the term "dangerous." I feel the insidious way that our culture has moved to a teacher-blaming one is what is dangerous. Honestly? If there are teachers in the district who are not up to par, which I'm sure is true, then we need to address that. But I do NOT believe more testing is the way to go about it. What about this: ask the stakeholders. Have the principal, the other teachers, the parents, and the students provide evaluative feedback on each teacher. If three of the four groups identify a problem, guess what? There's probably a problem. Truth is, everyone already KNOWS who the teachers are that are "sub-par." And there are two options -- help them improve, or if they cannot, remove them from the classroom. But adding more and more and more testing, in the name of addressing the (I would argue) FEW-ish that need help, just doesn't make sense.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 2:13 p.m.

"SOME teachers do, but our experience is that some teachers can also be quite clueless about their students' abilities and levels." Right on! My son is in sixth grade at Scarlett, where he has six teachers every day. Each teacher has 100+ kids every day. Am I really to believe that all of those teachers know about his abilities and levels? Perhaps they know about his accomplishments in first 5.5 weeks of the school year, but I don't think that after six weeks they all know much about his abilities and levels. If the NWEA test can help teachers gain insight into a student's levels right now (my son knows his scores immediately), won't that help them teach him? Frankly, I'd rather ditch the slow-moving MEAP and keep the NWEA. Since we can't ditch the state-mandated MEAP, I'm happy keeping the NWEA test for now. Perhaps if the revised MEAP serves the function of the NWEA when it's released in a couple of years, we can stop using the NWEA.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 1:20 p.m.

is there really the need to be so sarcastic? You don't truly believe that every teacher is competent, do you? We've had some bad experiences with teachers, and I know many parents who are like us. If you haven't, good for you. But please don't disqualify other people's experiences with a political label.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 1:17 p.m.

Wow. Dangerous? Really? I am so deeply saddened by our current culture which distrusts teachers so completely. It appears that the right-wing movement to privatize education has successfully changed the ethos and conversation in this country. We can't trust the TEACHERS! Of course not.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 1:13 p.m.

A2anon, I was commenting specifically on the part about "teachers who already know". It's good to know that people don't want to get rid of testing entirely. But the issue remains who decides which teacher needs the testing and which teacher doesn't. The teachers themselves? Those who don't have a good idea about their students' levels and abilities may not know that they don't. Yes, excessive testing is bad, but it's dangerous to let the individual teachers decide which tests are needed.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 1:07 p.m.

Nobody is saying "without ANY testing." See below. How much is too much? FOUR reading comprehension tests in a matter of weeks? We just keep adding things and not adjusting by taking things away. I stand by my comment. If an individual teacher needs it, fine. Let him do it. But the teachers that don't need it, leave them to teach.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 12:55 p.m.

"But that's not at all what I'm hearing from the teachers I talk to, who already know how their students are doing". SOME teachers do, but our experience is that some teachers can also be quite clueless about their students' abilities and levels. Without any testing, we'd be relying solely on individual teachers' ability to assess students, which, in our experience, could be way off mark.

J. A. Pieper

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 10:52 a.m.

Kindergarteners are not ready for the stress of taking the NWEA in SEPTEMBER! Many students cried or wet their pants, is this what the public wants to have happen to students? We'll see if it happens when they take it in January. Oh, and just for the public's information, the NWEA is very easy to teach to, so the scores are certainly going to go up. All a teacher has to do is print up all their levels/expectations, and it indicates exactly what to teach. Some of it isn't in the AAPS curriculum, but it doesn't matter, after all, the goal is to look good on paper, right?


Tue, Oct 16, 2012 : 1:21 a.m.

If you don't like GB? Then take a look at China. They are beating us hands down. Poland was rated number one in the world when it comes to academic success. Canada number 2. We rate at the bottom. So like it or not we need to start them in preschool.

Ron Granger

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 3:03 p.m.

I don't hold Britain as some model of success. What do they produce? What do they accomplish? Maybe they are good at taking tests.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 2:04 p.m.

Wanna bet? If they do it in Great Britain? They can certainly do it here. Children over the pond are potty trained by age 2 and in school by age 3. So don't give us the bally hoo children are too young. Why do you think they are ahead of the game? Too many bleeding hearts over here trying to keep our children from over exertion.