The Michigan Educational Assessment
Program test in-state students remember from their high school days
may be on its way out. Yesterday, the state Senate approved
legislation that would replace the current MEAP test with a
Michigan Merit Examination. Members of the bipartisan group of
lawmakers behind the Senate bills apparently consulted with Gov.
Jennifer Granholm’s administration, and the bill may be
passed before the end of the legislative session on Dec. 31. While
our initial reaction to the proposed legislation is negative, as
standardized tests are counterproductive and the change may merely
be a way to get more students to take the Michigan standardized
exam, the bills could make college entrance exams more accessible
to a diverse array of students.

Beth Dykstra

The new Michigan Merit Exam would combine a college entrance
exam, such as the SAT or ACT, with a state portion testing subjects
such as social studies ignored by the entrance exam. Though the
bill does not specify a particular entrance exam, the language of
the bill indicates a clear preference for using the ACT. Under the
legislation, the Michigan Merit Exam would be offered on school
time, and the state would pay the application fee. This system is
similar to the Prairie State Achievement Exam that has worked well
in Illinois.

As long as the state is considering changing its use of the MEAP
exam, it should completely eliminate state standardized tests in
high school. Though standardized tests attempt to measure
students’ mastery of the curriculum, they are inevitably
incomplete evaluations that often provide a false picture of school
performance. Results may be skewed by a number of factors, such as
schools teaching to the tests or students not taking standardized
tests seriously because they do not affect grades. Politicians
often latch on to such tests as justification for cutting funding
to poorly performing schools, thus further hurting troubled
schools. The MEAP test, which takes eight hours spread over several
days to take, has been criticized in particular for disrupting
education for high school juniors, who often are preoccupied with
Advanced Placement and college entrance exams.

Though the state is unlikely to adopt the ideal path of
abandoning standardized tests, the changes proposed by the Senate
legislation could do some good. Students who might otherwise not
consider taking a college entrance exam will likely do so,
particularly because the exam will be offered for free during
school hours rather than on a Saturday. This change will
particularly benefit low-income and minority students who might
otherwise not be able to pay the testing fee. Students who
otherwise might not have thought about higher education but do well
on the exam may apply to college; this could help universities
address falling minority enrollment rates. If nothing else, the
Michigan Merit Exam promises to take less time away from classroom
instruction.

There are, however, some potential drawbacks to the change.
Currently, the MEAP is used as the basis for the Michigan Merit
Award, as well as newspaper rankings of school districts. Including
a college entrance exam such as the ACT in the replacement exam,
though positive overall, will likely have the effect of skewing
results in favor of affluent districts where parents are willing
and able to pay for private exam preparation courses. Furthermore,
the MEAP, while an imperfect measure of curriculum mastery, may
nonetheless be a much better indicator than an exam such as the
ACT. However, the MEAP’s last days will not be sad days for
thousands of high school juniors across the state.

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