2006-11-30 / Front Page

New Merit Test Includes Free ACT

State Replaces MEAP With New Examination
By Paul Gingras

To make standardized testing more meaningful for Michigan high school students, the Michigan Department of Education has dispensed with the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) for juniors and replaced it with the Michigan Merit Exam. School administrators say the most significant impact on parents and students will be the Merit test's use as a free college entrance exam, while the most significant impact on schools will be preparing to administer the test.

Like the MEAP, the Merit Exam is a master test with several components. Unlike the MEAP, however, part of the Merit Exam will be the American College Test (ACT), which has been used by universities to determine eligibility in all 50 states since 1960. Last year, it was taken by 2.1 million students and can determine the quality of college a student is accepted to, said Don Gustafson, principal of LaSalle High School in St. Ignace.

Until now, the ACT was paid for by parents, but by making it a piece of the Michigan Merit Exam, the ACT is now free to juniors, and students will be able to use their results to apply to colleges and universities. Students can take the test repeatedly to increase their score, said Pete Everson, superintendent of the Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District (EUPISD), but the district will only pay for the first round of testing.

Prior to the development of the Merit Exam, students had to take the ACT at selected locations, sometimes out of town. Now, every school district that includes a high school is preparing to administer the ACT. Teachers, staff members, and administrators have been attending workshops to prepare for it, Mr. Everson said.

The MEAP and the ACT are both comprehensive tests that cover a variety of subject areas, but the MEAP for juniors was based on what the state determined should be taught in schools, while ACT measures what the federal government thinks students should know for college.

Scores on the new Merit Exam will also determine which students are granted Michigan Merit Scholarships.

Currently, the Michigan Merit Scholarship provides a maximum of $2,500 to pay for higher education, and the funding is spread out over the first two semesters of college. Governor Jennifer Granholm is considering raising the scholarship to $4,000 and using it to encourage students to complete their degrees, Mr. Everson said.

The state eliminated the MEAP in favor of the Merit Exam to increase the number of college graduates after a state Commission on Higher Education and Economic Growth determined that Michigan requires a more educated work force.

The commission's deliberations also led to the state's decision to increase high school graduation requirements, Mr. Gustafson added.

The new Merit Exam will also include the Federal WorkKeys test. WorkKeys is designed for students who plan to enter the work force sooner than students who pursue four-year or higher degrees, Mr. Everson said, and the test can give employers or two-year colleges a sense of students' abilities in mathematics and reading. For example, it reveals a student's ability to read directions to complete a task, and it shows how well a potential cashier can handle money calculations, Mr. Everson said.

Michigan curriculum planners do not believe the federal tests cover everything students should know, so the MME will also include mathematics, science, and social studies tests developed in Michigan. Subjects covered by the ACT, however, will not be covered extensively on the Michigan tests.

Preparing students for the Merit test will not require major changes in school curriculums, Mr. Gustafson said, since Michigan schools have traditionally prepared students to take the ACT.

The environment in which the ACT is taken is important, administrators say, and since the Merit Exam is taken only by juniors, St. Ignace Area Schools is considering using Little Bear East Arena and Community Center to administer it. Moving the testing to Little Bear East would prevent it from creating distractions for both the student body and juniors taking the test, Mr. Gustafson said.

The ACT differs in several ways from the MEAP, notably in how it deals with writing, Mr. Gustafson said. The MEAP for juniors included more writing than the ACT. On the MEAP, students wrote out answers to questions in several subject areas, such as science. The ACT favors the multiple choice method.

The reason the ACT requires less writing is because it is a national test, Mr. Gustafson said. There simply wouldn't be enough people to

grade written answers if the ACT included as much writing as the MEAP.

The ACT does have a section that focuses on writing skills, and it differs from the MEAP approach.

The MEAP included a "reflective essay." One prompt, for instance, asked students to write about how a decision they made affected their lives and the lives of people around them. The ACT writing portion directs students to write a "persuasive essay." This requires students to influence their readers more directly, to push them to think or feel a particular way about a subject.

The state has decided to proceed with its Michigan Merit Exam while awaiting confirmation from the U.S. Department of Education that the test can be used to prove that Michigan schools are making significant progress. This is called Academic Yearly Progress (AYP), and it is required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The ACT will be given as part of the Merit Exam Tuesday, March 13, 2007 and The WorkKeys and Michigan mathematics portions will be administered Wednesday, March 14. The Michigan science and social studies tests will be given in one session on March 13, 14, or 15.

A make-up will be offered the week of Monday, March 26, Mr. Everson added. To ensure that all students have the opportunity to take the make-up, spring break for EUPISD schools has been changed to the first week of April.

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