For some children, standardized test taking at school is an exercise in anxiety, too. And the bigger the test – like the new Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, or M-STEP (which replaced the MEAP) – the bigger the worry!
But fortunately, there are some simple, low stress ways parents can help their students prepare for this statewide exam for grades 3-8 and 11. Here’s a quick look at what the M-STEP is and five ways you can get your child ready.
What is M-STEP?
The M-STEP, which replaced the 44-year-old MEAP test, was rolled out during the 2014-15 school year, says Janet Ellis-Jarzembowski, a spokesperson with the Michigan Department of Education.
“The M-STEP is a 21st Century test given primarily online each spring and is designed to gauge how well students are mastering state standards,” she says. “These standards, developed for educators by educators, broadly outline what students should know and be able to do in order to be prepared to enter the workplace, career education training and college.”
The test takes students around four to eight hours annually to complete, depending on the student’s grade, Ellis-Jarzembowski says.
Wondering when your child will take the test? Parents can find the full 2017 testing schedule here.
While the M-STEP will be given in spring during the 2017 and 2018 school years, parents should know that more testing changes may be ahead for Michigan students. The MDE is considering a new assessment vision that would include scaling back the M-STEP and administering it just once in elementary school and once in middle school, Ellis-Jarzembowski says.
“In most of the grades where the M-STEP is not given, students would take a test given once in the fall, once in the spring and an optional winter assessment,” she explains. “Such an approach, (State Superintendent Brian) Whiston said, would show teachers whether students have improved over the course of the year, as opposed to a once-per-year test that simply measures overall achievement.”
Preparing for a standardized test
Whether it’s the M-STEP or another test, a few general strategies can help kids feel more prepared, says Mary Ann Rosenthal of the Kumon Math and Reading Center in Royal Oak. She knows the drill: She was a teacher in the Berkley School District for a dozen years before serving as director of her Kumon branch for the past more than 25 years.
While Rosenthal points out that she’s not an expert on the M-STEP, she says the new test seems to focus more on strategies.
“There seems to be a greater emphasis with the M-STEP on the strategies kids use and we do work on there being different strategies that are useful in solving problems,” she says. “It’s good for kids to realize there are multiple ways to solve problems.”
The Michigan Department of Education also notes that the M-STEP has “fewer multiple choice questions and more questions that require problem solving and critical thinking skills than the previous MEAP assessment.”
Parents can learn more about the M-STEP here.
Here’s a look at five general tips parents can consider to help their kids prepare for a big test like the M-STEP.
1. Learn to stay focused
Make sure your child knows what they’ll need to stay focused. If they need a drink of water, tell them to get it. If they need a snack, let them have it. They need to be comfortable so they can stay focused on the task at hand.
“Staying focused is a big deal. If they are looking around the room, it doesn’t measure what they know,” Rosenthal says.
2. Read the questions first
Preparing for a test is not an overnight deal – and reading skills are important. Students need to be able to read to follow directions and understand what is being asked in these tests (especially on story problems).
One suggestion is for students to preview the questions before they read the informational paragraph. That way, students know what to look for in the reading portion and can better find the detail that will help answer the questions.
3. Key words in directions
Coach your kids to pay close attention to directions. One really handy tip is to underline key words. That way, their eyes can quickly go back to that core information as they puzzle through the questions that follow.
4. Get to know procedures and terms
And make sure your student is familiar with testing procedures – such as fill in the blank or multiple choice. Go over test terminology, too, such as the difference between synonyms and antonyms and “greater than” or “less than.”
5. Encourage your child to ‘do your best’
Of course, the age-old advice to get a good night’s sleep and good breakfast still stands, Rosenthal says – “but they should be doing that every day.”
But in addition, as the kids are leaving for school the morning of the test, “Parents need to keep a really positive attitude,” Rosenthal advises. “This test is just a snapshot of how a child is doing on that particular day.”
Encourage your children to do their best. It’s only one test. If parents can get that idea across, it may help the kids relax.
This post was originally published in 2011 and has been updated for 2016.