Testing Boycott Continues in Michigan

K-12 Testing

A boycott of the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP), led by advocates and parents, has been instrumental in winning changes to the test which have led to a greater number of students receiving state endorsements on their high school diplomas. Parents have utilized a state provision allowing their children to abstain from the test.


In 1996-97, students and their parents in a few districts initiated a boycott of the test given to eleventh-graders (see Examiner, Spring 1997). Last year, the boycott spread to many more districts. The Detroit Free Press reported that statewide 22.5 percent of eleventh grade students didn't take the test, while in some districts the percentage was significantly higher.


Richard Gibson, Coordinator of Social Studies Education at Wayne State University, who helped organize the boycott, reports, "We cannot guess how many of those who did not take the test actually joined our call for a boycott, but in a few districts as many as 95% opted out. Where we had activists, we had success--to some degree.


"Significantly, it was the poorest, and the richest, districts that opted out. It was more difficult to organize opposition in middle class districts. In the wealthier districts, boycott advocates often were supported by school administrators. In middle class districts, administrators have been far more frantic to produce high test scores--some going so far as to provide special pre-test meals, others holding parades and demonstrations to whip up test spirit."


According to Gibson, the boycott was organized through a myriad of activities, including holding forums, presenting to teachers' professional conferences and teacher education college classes, using the Internet, speaking with exam writers, and reaching out to local unions and churches.


In hopes of encouraging higher student participation and quelling parent's complaints about the exam, the State Department of Education shortened the test and administered it to students in the spring instead of the fall, allowing additional learning time. The grading categories for the test were expanded from three to four, with scores in the top three levels qualifying for endorsements; under the old plan, only scores in the highest category were endorsed. An endorsement certifies that a student has acquired proficiency in a subject area.


The alterations have increased the number of endorsements given to students. On the test administered last spring, about three-quarters of students will be granted endorsements in all four subject areas, compared to endorsement rates of 50 percent or less using the prior scoring system. The next round of tests will be in February 1999.


Some districts, spurred on by Republican Governor Engler, have placed teachers on probation whose students did poorly on the science section. The Governor has also threatened funding cuts for districts with high non-participation rates.