MEAP questions compromised

Published 6:43 am Friday, October 12, 2007

By By ERIKA PICKLES / Niles Daily Star
NILES – The Michigan Department of Education is aware that re-testing of the state's fifth and sixth grade MEAP Writing assessments may cause a burden and unwanted stress on students, teachers and administrators. However, according to Martin Ackley, Director of Office of Communications for Michigan Department of Education, this is something that has to be done.
"As unfortunate as this is, it is important for us to tell you that the Department had no choice but to take this action, as a result of an egregious mistake made in one school district," Ackley said in an e-mail press release.
The decision was made when a newspaper reporter from the Jackson Citizen Patriot gained access to the content of MEAP writing prompts in a school on Monday, Oct. 8. The story was published in the local newspaper on Tuesday, Oct. 9, and came to the attention of Michigan Department of Education the following morning. It was also published on the internet.
The problem is that some of the test questions were published in the article and not every student in the state of Michigan takes the test at the same time.
"This was actually supposed to be a positive thing the newspaper was doing. It was all very innocent and the article was focusing on MEAP testing. The reporter was asking students questions about the test, but the problem is that now some of the questions from the test are out in the open and some students in the state haven't taken the writing portion yet," Jim Craig, Niles Community Schools curriculum director, said Friday afternoon.
Craig continued and wanted to make it clear that only a portion of the writing test has to be retaken, not the whole thing.
"The part being retaken accounts for six of the 30 points on the writing section. It's not the entire section. We figure it will take about two hours for students to retake this test. Michigan did what it could to make sure students did not have to take the entire section over again and we are fortunate for that," Craig said.
Ackley added that this was not a decision that was precipitated by something that occurred at the Department of Education. Yet the Department took into consideration the impact of this decision and the repercussions if they did not take this extraordinary action.
"We are thoroughly investigating the situation at the school district and are examining the potential penalties," Ackley said.
MEAP testing in all Michigan schools began this week and will continue for the next two weeks.
Brandywine Elementary School principal Tim Bagby said Friday that some of his students have already taken the writing portion of the test. They may or may not have to take it again and Bagby said they are waiting to hear from the Department of Education on what steps have to be taken.
Ackley said that all fifth and sixth grade students will need to take or retake a portion of the writing test, Part 1A, Writing from Knowledge and Experience.
Students who already took the writing test need to take the new writing prompt that replaces the one that was compromised. The other sections of the writing test do not need to be retaken.
The decision to have the students retake the test was made in compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Michigan schools’ AYP status, would be in jeopardy if the U.S. Department of Education ruled the writing test invalid.
"We wanted to ensure that students in some schools did not have an unfair advantage over students in other schools by knowing what the writing prompt was, and being able to prepare for it. We must ensure that state rules governing the administration of the MEAP test are complied with, and that violation of the rules do result in appropriate penalties and sanctions," Ackley said.
Actions the state may take regarding the district, school and any specific individuals are currently under discussion. Ackley said at the present time, it appears there are no consequences the State can pursue against the reporter. The breach was the responsibility of school personnel.
The new writing test date will be set sometime next week and Ackley said in the e-mail that this will delay the reporting of the MEAP test results.
"It's unfortunate. We would rather not repeat it, but we don't have any choice. We're not going to waste time worrying about it. We'll have the students take the test, pack it up and send it off. It beats having to take the whole test over again," Craig said.
Craig said some may be worried that students will not do as good this time around because they have to do it again.
"Is it possible kids won't give their best effort the second time? Yes. But it's also possible they will do better. At least we've had a little extra practice," he said.