Monday, October 15, 2012

Ten Things to Know About the MEAP

I had a conversation last year with a dear friend about the MEAP, the Michigan Educational Assessment Program. It was clear to me that he fundamentally didn't understand how the MEAP is different from other tests, or why that matters. In case any of you are not MEAP experts, I just thought I would offer a few observations about what makes the MEAP different.

1. The MEAP is really multiple tests. . . reading, writing, math, science, social studies.

2. It might not be obvious, but while the reading test is just that--a reading test--the other tests are really also reading tests. You might think of them as "reading +" tests. The reason I say that is that in order to answer the questions on, for instance, the social studies MEAP, you have to be able to read them. So if you don't read well, guess what? You're not likely to test very well on any of the other sections either, even if you are really good at doing experimental science or can identify the 500 most common insects in Michigan.

3. The MEAP is not like other tests, where a teacher gives the test, figures out that half of the class didn't really get the concept of a rhombus, and re-teaches the concept.  No. The test comes at the beginning of the year, the results come at the end of the year, and they're never used for anything except. . .

4. Except evaluating schools. If enough kids don't take the tests. . . if the kids who take the tests don't do well. . . if a subset of kids don't do well, then guess what? The school doesn't make "Adequate Yearly Progress," which basically feels to the schools like they are getting a big fat F. Note my commentary about Skyline's MEAP tests last year.

5. It is this "high stakes" nature of the test that leads teachers to do a lot of pre-testing and test preparation. And the stakes are not high for the students, the way that a final exam worth 40% of a semester-long class might be. No--the stakes are high for the schools. 

6. The test compares year-to-year results for a school. What I mean is that the test is comparing last year's fourth graders to this year's fourth graders, not last year's third graders to this year's fourth graders. If a student moves from School A to School B, the results do not follow the student. And if a new student comes into a school, the state's evaluation still assumes the student has been there for the last several years. That is not at all helpful for schools that have high turnover in students because of poverty and unstable households. Incidentally, the MEAP was neither designed for nor (scientifically) validated for use this way, and yet that is how it gets used. 

7. One of my biggest objections to the MEAP is that it in no way benefits the students. Why should students spend a ton of time on something that doesn't benefit them?

8. The question has been raised to me: is there a way to opt out of the MEAP? In the past, many parents did (so obviously it should be possible). However, districts have gotten their backs up about this for one reason. And again, it's not something that benefits students. If enough students don't take the MEAP (and I don't mean, if enough students don't do well, I mean if they don't take it) then the school can fail to make "adequate yearly progress" solely on that basis. In other words, even if every student who takes the MEAP is proficient or better, if 10% of the students didn't take the MEAP, then the school could fail to "pass." See how it's not about the students?

9. Well, my friend said, "Why don't people who don't want their children to take the test just pull them out of school for the test?" That turns out to not be so easy. The MEAP has multiple parts (different parts in different grades), and is given during a three-week (or so) window. Most parents don't want to keep their kids out of school for three weeks; most parents aren't able to do so either (things like work tend to interfere). If you are able to take your kids out of school for three weeks, you might be a parent who is inclined toward home schooling, in which case you would not have to subject your child to the MEAP anyway.

10. So can you opt out? I believe so, despite what your district may say. Realize, however, that if you do so you may be putting your school in an uncomfortable position (see #7 above). I have one friend who has successfully (recently) opted out her child from the MEAP, and if I get permission I will share her family's technique--and I have heard of a couple of other techniques as well.  (If you have had your own success story, and are willing to share it, send me an email at rlk234 (at)

In the meantime, I will leave you with this excerpt from our state's Revised School Code:
380.10 Rights of parents and legal guardians; duties of public schools. Sec. 10.
It is the natural, fundamental right of parents and legal guardians to determine and direct the care, teaching, and education of their children. The public schools of this state serve the needs of the pupils by cooperating with the pupil's parents and legal guardians to develop the pupil's intellectual capabilities and vocational skills in a safe and positive environment.

History: Add. 1995, Act 289, Eff. July 1, 1996
Popular Name: Act 451 (Emphasis added)
I will also leave you with this thought: the volume of tests in our schools increases every year; the high-stakes nature of the tests increases every year. It's time for us to say no to this. If you are an Ann Arbor parent, teacher, or taxpayer, I invite you to sign our petition to stop overtesting in our schools, and I invite you to join our facebook page as well!


  1. Fantastic post, Ruth.

  2. Interesting points; let me add a couple of things:
    1) In many states students can get a religious exemption from taking the state tests. In practice districts can't and don't question the reason, they just grant it. So that's one path if it is an option in Michigan (I don't know).
    2) Schools in Michigan no longer have to comply with NCLB and making AYP. The state was granted a waiver from complying with NCLB this summer by the U.S. Department of Education, so AYP standards no longer apply. Instead, schools are now measured using a different standard, which flags "Focus Schools" (,4615,7-140-22709_62253---,00.html) and "Priority Schools" (,4615,7-140-22709_57510---,00.html)

  3. All good points. The article was clear that the target of the petition drive was the NWEA MAP test. One could argue that the MAP test is an improvement over MEAP. Specifically, the MAP if executed correctly, addresses the concerns in points 3,4,5,6, and 7 shown above. So, is the objective of the petition drive to end one or both of the tests for all students or offer an opt-out option?

    The MEAP will be replaced in the 2014-15 school year. I haven't found much information about the new test based on the common core standards.


  4. Don, In fact the two ways that I have heard of students in the county successfully opting out of the MEAP are associated with a) religious/philosophical objections or b) getting a medical note saying that their child should not be tested.

    It's my understanding that with a medical note the loss of that student's test scores is not held against the district as a non-participating student. I need to confirm that though.

  5. DSwan--

    The petition does not specifically address the NWEA test in particular, although there are certainly some people signing it who want to see it go. It does address all of the non-mandated testing (which includes the NWEA, but also FastMath, SRI, EXPLORE, among others).

    Personally--not speaking for the group--I would like to see an opt-out option for all of these tests; I would like to see us not repeating assessments of the same materials (why have NWEA MAP and SRI); and I don't want us using a test like the MAP or MEAP test to evaluate teachers. If the MAP test is useful (and I don't know if it is--the information parents got from the school district was definitely *not* useful), then it is useful for assessing student knowledge, not for assessing teachers.

    And the MAP test may be better than the MEAP (certainly it is better to get feedback sooner!) but unfortunately, the MEAP is a mandated test and the school board and administration does not have control over whether it is offered.

    The new test is tentatively called the Smarter Balanced test and is scheduled for spring 2014 implementation. Supposedly it is designed for teacher evaluation as well as student evaluation. (Can you serve two masters like that?)

    It is a test that students will take on a computer. As such it is expected to replace both the MEAP and the MAP, in which case I have to ask why we are spending hundreds of thousands of acquiring the NWEA, getting the technology that allows us to use it, and training teachers on administrators on it--when it will be replaced in two years.

  6. Nice post regarding MEAP. Regarding NWEA MAP, my feelings are more nuanced. We had a Kindergartner and 2nd grader taking the NWEA MAP last year. It makes no sense for kindergartners to be doing this test (though my kindergartner did not seem traumatized by it). I'm glad they eliminated the fall administration for K, and think that should be extended.

    However, our experience in 2nd grade was more positive. Our 2nd grade teacher was really using the data to analyze her students and to adjust her own instruction. She was a major fan of the NWEA, and worried that opposition to "testing" might take this useful tool away. [How this will pan out for 1st and 3rd grade is a work in progress]

    So while I too worry about overtesting, I also think we need to carefully match concerns with the realities of the different testing regimes.

  7. Here is a good article about the MEAP from the superintendent of a Michigan school district:

    Here's a key point:
    "These tests will verify for us what we already know: Kids who come from middle- to high-income homes will do well on the MEAP. Kids whose parents have a bachelor's degree or higher will meet achievement targets on the MEAP. Kids whose mothers can read well will demonstrate proficiency on the MEAP."

    And here is another one: "Over a period of three weeks each October, tens of thousands of Michigan's school-aged children sit in their seats for several hours each day taking the MEAP tests. In these three weeks, teachers virtually stop teaching and kids stop learning. ...I am troubled that such young children are subject to long interruptions in their learning. I am troubled that this assessment is multiple-choice based and inconsistent with the philosophy of learning in our schools."

    From The Detroit News: