Anticipated changes to the state's educational assessment program could result in lower MEAP scores next year in the Birmingham Public Schools, but students are expected to continue receiving some of the highest test results in Oakland County, a district official said during Tuesday night's school board meeting.
Stephen Palmer, assistant superintendent for instruction, reported on the and discussed the impact of potential changes to the state's scoring process.
Overall, Palmer was happy with the results, saying the numbers were "very strong" and illustrate the continued proficiency of Birmingham students.
During the MEAP exam, taken during fall 2010, students in grades 3-9 were tested in math, reading, writing, social studies and/or science, depending on the grade level.
The results, released March 31, indicate more than 90 percent of all Birmingham students taking MEAP tests were proficient in reading, math and science. About 92 percent of sixth-graders were proficient in social studies, and 89 percent of ninth-graders were proficient in the same subject.
In addition, across all grades, there were more students "exceeding expectations" in every subject except writing.
"Writing is an area we know needs improvement and we will focus on improving," Palmer said.
About 1 percent of fourth-graders at the district were deemed not proficient on the MEAP writing test, while 30 percent were partially proficient, 47 percent scored proficient and 23 percent were advanced. Among seventh-graders, 3 percent weren’t proficient in writing while 28 percent were partially proficient, 50 percent were proficient and 19 percent were advanced.
There are several reasons for the discrepancy, Palmer said. The dip in proficiency can be attributed to a recent change to the MEAP's cut scores in writing, making this year's scores look starkly different from previous years. Cut scores are those deemed by the Michigan Board of Education as the cut-off point for the various levels of proficiency.
In addition, Palmer pointed out writing wasn't tested during the 2009-10 school year and even with lower than anticipated scores, writing test results among fourth-graders were the sixth highest in Oakland County while seventh-grade results came in fourth in the county.
While slight modifications to the MEAP’s cut scores have been made the last five years, there haven’t been significant changes to the scoring process since 2005, said Ernie Bauer, director of research, evaluation and assessment programs for Oakland Schools intermediate district, which provides services to the county’s public districts. However, changes to the test proposed earlier this year could lead to drastic changes in the percent of students currently deemed proficient, he said.
In January, the state’s director of educational assessment and accountability presented a list of new cut scores to the Michigan Board of Education, scores that would raise the minimum standards for students to be considered proficient and increase the state’s national standing.
“It would be a pretty big change,” Bauer said. “If it were to happen, whatever they do to raise standards will impact districts in wildly different ways.”
Tuesday’s presentation included projections of the Birmingham’s MEAP scores under changes to the state’s scoring standards that could be approved later this year. While overall decreases in proficiency scores would vary, drops ranging from 15 percent to more than 30 percent are projected.
Superintendent David Larson said MEAP scores indicate proficiency under state guidelines, but the district doesn’t tailor curriculum with the sole purpose of improving state scores. Proficiency, he pointed out, isn't its only priority.
Palmer said the district’s scores would be more widely distributed if changes to MEAP standards are approved, which would provide more discerning information to use in classroom instruction.
“Right now, it’s hard to take a lot from MEAP scores when 98 percent of our kids are proficient,” Palmer said.
For a closer look at the 2010 MEAP scores, check , broken down by grade, and at each individual school.