By Jim Newell
Review Staff Writer
When compared against 28 other districts in Oakland County, Lake Orion students rank it the top 10 in every category on the state’s M-STEP test.
Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Heidi Mercer recently presented to the board of education the rankings and a breakdown of issues affecting students.
Lake Orion’s third through eighth graders and eleventh grade students’ scores rank in the top 10 across the four test categories: seventh in math, fifth in English, ninth in science and eighth in social studies.
“I’m very pleased with our performance,” Mercer said. “Parents, students, teachers; it takes a whole team. Lake Orion is one of the few districts where our overall average score continues to rise.”
In 2014-2015 the M-STEP (Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress) replaced the 44-year-old MEAP test. The M-STEP has fewer multiple choice questions than the previous MEAP assessment and more questions that require problem solving and critical thinking skills.
And unlike the old tests with number 2 pencils and Scantron sheets, the MSTEP is an online test.
“It does make sense, though,” Mercer said. “Really, in this day and age it should be online.”
Students in grades 3-8 take the M-STEP, but each grade is tested on different elements:
• Grades 3 and 6 take mathematics and ELA (English, Language, Arts)
• Grades 4 and 7 take mathematics, ELA, and science
• Grades 5 and 8 take mathematics, ELA, and social studies
“Overall, I’m pleased with the results. However, there’s always room to improve, to ensure that each student is reaching and demonstrating their maximum potential,” Mercer said.
“The bottom line is, in my mind we’re not there until we reach 100 percent,” Mercer said. “And certainly we know it’s one test.”
High school juniors take the Michigan Merit Exam, a general assessment for students in Grade 11, which includes the SAT test with an essay (mathematics and English language arts), the ACT WorkKeys (A work skills assessment) and M-STEP (science and social studies)
Beginning in spring 2016, ninth and tenth grade students now take the P-SAT test, which is now a state requirement. “Before, ninth and tenth grade students didn’t take anything. And, actually, we’ve done pretty well,” Mercer said.
Lake Orion’s graduation rate is around 96 percent, and most students are college-bound or pursuing some form of post-secondary education.
As for educators in the district, 74 percent hold a Master’s Degree or higher, and 31 percent of educators have spent at least five years with the district; 38 percent have more than ten years in Lake Orion schools.
However, with the achievements also come challenges.
In addition to knowing the subject matter on the tests, students now have to be proficient in taking online tests, and if they don’t have that computer knowledge, or if they have to spend extra time figuring out the techniques – such as drag and drop, mouse skills and scrolling – it could have an impact.
“Some of the students, such as the kindergartners, are touching the screen instead of using a mouse,” Mercer said.
And while kindergartners are not taking these tests, it’s indicative of a generation used to touch screens, where something like a mouse may be passé.
“Those things impede, really, the knowledge we’re trying to test. If they don’t have those skills it is just an obstacle they have to contend with,” Mercer said.
Mercer said that while students are more tech savvy at a younger age, some of the skills they have to use in taking the standardized test still need to be taught early on.
“It’s not that they can’t do it, they pick things up quickly. It does play a role when they are testing, not having a proficiency with some of these skills.
“The knowledge and skills that students need continues to evolve,” Mercer said. “They do need different skills. That’s one of the things I’m concerned about.”
State standards broadly outline what students need to know and are able to do in each subject and grade level to be career and college-ready upon graduation. These assessments are required by both state and federal law in order to ensure all children are learning and receiving a high-quality education
“There is not one particular school that is outperforming another school,” Mercer said. “If you truly look at the data…the numbers are not that far apart, if at all.”
By Jim Newell