LANSING (AP) The state has drastically cut the number of questions on standardized tests requiring students to write out answers in their own words because they”re too expensive to grade.
The state budget crunch is the main reason the Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests have been changed, state officials said yesterday.
In most cases, the number of test questions requiring written responses will be replaced by multiple choice questions. For example, the eighth-grade social studies test used to have seven open-ended questions. This year it will have one.
Some tests also will have fewer multiple-choice questions. The fourth- and seventh-grade reading tests have been cut from 68 to 40 multiple choice questions.
“It”s going to take less human hours to correct the test,” said Department of Treasury spokesman Terry Stanton. “We had to do some belt-tightening. But we”re still real confident that the test is a good barometer.”
The savings will come from not having to pay as much to the two testing companies the state uses. NCS Pearson Inc. of Minnesota grades the multiple-choice portions of the tests, while Measurement Inc. of North Carolina grades open-ended questions.
The state annually administers tests in math, reading, writing, social studies and science to students. Fourth-, fifth-, seventh- and eighth-graders will take this year”s MEAP tests from Jan. 28 to Feb. 15. High school students will take the MEAP tests in April and May.
President Bush yesterday signed into law an education package that will require annual tests for third- through eighth-graders, beginning in 2005.
Some educators worry that decreasing the number of questions students answer may dilute the MEAP tests. Tom Davis, superintendent of Holt Public Schools in suburban Lansing, said the written portions of the MEAP important measures of student performance.
He also said it was valuable to get comments from test readers outside the district.
“Writing is a universal skill. It”s too bad that it”s going to be out of the test,” Davis said.
Stanton said the state was told last fall it would have to cut $5 million from its budget for creating and grading the MEAP tests. The department spent around $15 million last year on the MEAP tests but this year will be able to spend only $10 million, Stanton said.
The cutbacks were among the $540 million in cuts and other changes lawmakers and Gov. John Engler made last fall to balance the budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.
Stanton said the state also might consider cutting back on the number of new test questions it releases each year, since it costs the state more to develop them.
Henry Scherich, president of Measurement Inc., said Michigan is the only state so far to inform the company that it will need fewer graders this year. Considering the budget problems many states face, Scherich said more may follow Michigan”s lead. Measurement Inc. grades tests for more than 25 states.
Scherich said Michigan will have to take extra steps when comparing results from the new tests with results from previous tests.
“It”s not impossible, but it has to be carefully done,” he said. “They have to be sure that they”re being fair, because students have less opportunity now to get 50 points, or whatever they need to get.”
Some state awards, including Golden Apples and the Merit Award scholarships, are already based on MEAP performance and improvement. The state”s new accreditation plan, which would assign letter grades to schools beginning in 2003, also would be largely based on improvements in MEAP scores.
Bill Bushaw, the state”s chief academic officer, said it will be complicated to compare the tests to tests taken before. But he said that is a common issue when administering tests.
“The ACT gives slightly different versions each year, but it still measures the same level of knowledge,” Bushaw said.