AAPS Board Hears M-STEP Results, Annual Tech Report

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (February 3, 2016): Forsythe Middle School, 1655 Newport Rd

During tonight’s regular meeting, beginning at 7:00 PM, the trustees will hear two informational items: the MSTEP achievement report and the annual technology report.

There will be a first briefing on a sunset review of the Human Resources 4000 Policies.  The Governance Committee recommends changes to some, but not all, of the policies.

Second briefings will be the Internet Service Expansion and the Technology Firewall Purchase.

Voting tonight will be on the Internet service expansion and the firewall purchase.

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7:03 PM Meeting called to order. All trustees, excepting Vice President Christine Stead, are present. Stead is traveling this evening.




Superintendent Jeanice Swift reports out on some of highlights around the district. As it is National School Counseling Week, Swift recognizes the district’s guidance counselors. She also acknowledges teacher professional development. Segueing into the second semester, a video showcasing teachers who care is shown.

Trustee Donna Lasinski asks if the district has a Youtube channel, saying that it could be a great content repository. Swift says they’re working on it.


Performance Committee: Trustee Andy Thomas reports out. The Performance Committee heard the M-STEP Achievement Report at their meeting yesterday. After hearing the report, they spent yesterday’s meeting talking over how much the M-STEP should be reported out on “at this time,” as it is a new test, a single data point. It is seen in isolation, he says. Proficiency scores were lower than with the MEAP. If ACT scores were looked at with comparable districts, the M-STEP cannot be compared with other districts. Performance wonders if there is discrepancy based upon familiarity with computers, since the M-STEP was fully implemented online. Gave the instruction to the executive team to not give the comparison data, but not trying to hide anything.

Not papering over what the district knows is a significant problem with the achievement gap, so will report out the subgroup testing results.

Thomas says they are expecting that the next time the M-STEP is administered, many of the struggles in implementation will be ironed out. They will have more confidence in the validity of the test then. Not sure if the 2014-15 year will be a baseline year. Do feel they made the correct decision in pushing ahead with M-STEP. Want to be the leaders and not the followers in this.

Keep in mind that when the information is reported out, it is a singular data point.

Governance Committee: With 4000 Policy Reviews, sunset review will be finished at the mid-point of the year. Next meeting is scheduled for 2/19; however, that meeting will need to be rescheduled.


7:29 PM Swift: significant lag time in administering test in April, then receiving data in December.

M-STEP Achievement Report PowerPoint

  • First admin of all new M-STEP
  • based in new Michigan State Standards
  • increased critical thinking and application required
  • fewer multiple choice questions
  • first time online assessment
  • some variation in assessment administration across districts – some online; some paper/pencil

Committed to using this year’s test results to helping them focus their work, says Swift. This process will take time, she says. “Current scores do not define us.”

Disparity in achievement exist in the areas:

  • African American
  • Economically Disadvantaged
  • English Language Learning
  • Hispanic
  • Special Needs

M-STEP adjustments for Spring 2016

  • cut the test time by 2 hours  for students Grade 3-8.
  • no classroom activities required
  • shorter sessions/adding more breaks
  • reduce test time by 8 hours for 11th grade

Trustee Susan Baskett asks how long students are in session for, given these numbers. Jane Landefeld, executive director of student accounting and research services, says it depends on the student and grade. Swift says they will follow up with a range of time. Lasinski notes that the State has made some changes based on the district’s suggestions and hopes that they continue to make it better for students. “For once, we weren’t beating a dead horse.”

Baskett asks if a beta test was conducted somewhere before it was rolled out statewide. It was thought that they were going to do the Smarter Balanced Test. But after the State changed their mind, they had to roll out the M-STEP.

AAPS generally scores above state scores. Students were tested in English Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies.  There are some specific groups which do not fare as well, which tend to mirror state scores. Science scores are very low.

Trustee Simone Lightfoot: struggles with this particular test because of all the politics. She does not want parents to look at the results of the tests and think their students are anything but what they have been. She points to testing data across the country, which has shown online testing negatively impacting student scores. Lightfoot wants them to be vocal about this at the state level and says they need to “fight, fight, fight.”

Thomas: M-STEP, unlike ACT or SAT, is not nationally comparable. Michigan, for various reasons, decided to not give a test that would allow students to be compared with students from any other state. Why it was developed so hastily, and why so many issues with the rollout and the validation of the test, he can only speculate. On those tests that have been calibrated at a national level, Michigan falls near the bottom. Because the decision made by state legislature to not go forward with a nationally comparable test, comparisons cannot be made. He thinks it was a poor, cowardly decision. Reflects the legislature’s unwillingness to take accountability for the defunding of public education.

Lightfoot, referring to an EdWeek article, says a company gets to put together a test that is “whack” and then the entity that puts the test together says it is the district’s responsibility to fix it. Mexicotte notes that it isn’t even that test the district gave. AAPS gave a test that was put together hastily by the state.

Baskett: shares negative concerns that Lightfoot and Thomas expressed. Clarifies the testing students go through on an annual basis. The M-STEP is given to grades 3-8, along with the NWEA at elementary school levels and at one middle school. M-STEP is also given at the 11th grade level. Swift says that Michigan could choose to have the SAT stand in for the full 11th grade evaluation, and she encourages this legislature to make that so.

Mexicotte says it was rare to feel as if they were looking at “real longitudinal data” because the tests change so frequently. This kind of change in scores, she says, has happened often in the district every time the state changes testing. But, she says, it’s great that people in the community trust them to “norm out” those changes over time. The new scoring, however it it scaled, does not change the high achieving education provided by AAPS.

Baskett: it is frustrating that they have the teachers doing the work. Wondering what they are testing for. We still do the “good work that we do.” Resent the fact that they put the children through it. Playing into some bigger game.

Lightfoot says that she has heard from 11th graders that they don’t give a “cahoot” about the scores. Mexicotte agrees, saying that 11th graders haven’t had much stake in the test scores since the State took away the scholarship money that was attached to MEAP scores.

Lasinski notes that evaluating students is important for the learning process, for teachers and students alike. Tests like this, however, don’t provide helpful information, especially when the results are given so much later after the testing itself. This kind of evaluation that doesn’t serve learning.

Thomas clarifies that in order to reduce the testing time for 11th graders, two of the areas tested will be dropped for this year. He said that his son “with no small amount of bitterness in his voice” told him that his 11th grade class is the only one that will have had to take all four areas of assessment with the M-STEP. Thomas says it is important to remember the reason for testing. The NWEA MAP test, he notes, was one the board felt would give relevant information to teachers, parents, and students. There is a problem when there is such discontinuity from year to year. They need real data they can use.

Trustee Patricia Manley: if they aren’t able to see any of the gains – does the district have the option to no longer use the M-STEP? Swift says, no – the M-STEP is the state’s standardized test.

Lightfoot: are there things the district can do to help students? Swift says that helping students be comfortable with the tools will be key. Apparently, there can be as much 10-20 point difference if students used computers or if they pencil and paper for testing.

Lightfoot says that she can see how infusing technology in everyday testing situations, such as a spelling test, could be pushed by the state in order to improve student testing performance.

INFORMATION REPORT: Annual Technology Report

8:14 PM Swift says this is the first annual technology report – a state of the technology in the district. It matters that students have a “tech rich” learning environment in which to learn. Have implemented a variety of new technologies. Most proud that in AAPS, the device does not drive instruction. Quality teaching and learning come first.

Merri Lynn Colligan, executive director instructional technology & information services, begins by reviewing the district’s strategic plan.

There’s been an increase of 8,000 devices between this year and last. The district is above a 1:1 ratio of devices to students.

For differentiation for all learners, there is now soundfield systems [to help auditory learners], projectors [to help visual learners], eBeam Edges (which transform any flat surface into an interactive teaching and learning experience) [ for kinesthetic learners], and Ladibug document cameras.

The Ladibug document cameras and the eBeam edges cost about $600 each. There are one of each in every instructional learning space.

In addition to the devices put in teachers and students’ hands, there have been an increase in accessibility to instructional systems and software. Instructional systems, productivity tools, intervention systems and creativity tools are all available. Mexicotte makes sure to note that the Adobe Creative Suite is available.

Colligan says that there is an expansion in mobile app management. Whatever tools on an iPad, there is an equivalent app on a Google ChromeBook. Lightfoot asks if the district has its own app. Swift says the communications team has been tasked with coming up with a district app.

There is a robust infrastructure, says Colligan: a 10G fiber backbone, 410 Network switches, 1371 wireless access points. 18,000 individual accounts were created this year.

How is tech impacting teaching and learning? Focuses on  collaboration, communications, critical thinking, creative abilities, organizational & leadership skills. All new tech is brought in to support those focal points.

Most of tech staff has been with district over 12 years. Lasinski notes that there is a high proportion of females in the building support teams. Colligan says that her team does an amazing job.

Challenges: time for ongoing professional learning – implementation training, ongoing support; access for all students beyond the school day – devices, internet connectivity, support for technical challenges; maintaining technology infrastructure – repairs and replacement cycles, power consumption, and Internet bandwidth.

Lightfoot asks if the board should expect to see an increase in electric bills.

Successes: increased access technology to support instructional programs; high satisfaction rate on technical support requests; grant opportunities to support technology; increased support and professional connections through social media.

Strategic priorities: blended learning, data assessment, instructional integration, digital citizenship, and STEAM UP Ann Arbor

Lightfoot: is there an increase in students’ ability to type? Colligan says typing is an input skill. Our students are better typing with their thumbs. Will need to be addressed.

Thomas thanks Colligan for the report, saying he was “blown away” by how much technology is in the district and how it is being used. He asks Colligan how close the district is to replacing textbooks with iPads. Right now, Colligan says, textbook companies want you to buy the textbook. Swift says they wanted to wait past the eve of textbooks being rewritten for Michigan state standards. There will be intensive discussion in the spring to determine such things.

Thomas also want to know how close the district is to real-time location alerts for buses. Jen Hein says there is GPS location on all buses, but no real-time location pings yet. Thomas also says that typing is the one skill from a high school class that he uses every day. Colligan says that those skills are now integrated throughout all classes. Thomas’s observation is that students were never specifically taught skills but are expected to know them.

Thomas also acknowledges the “great technology divide” between households in Ann Arbor, those who have desktop computers at home versus those who do not, etc. Wonders how the district can address this. Colligan says she is working with Pathways to Success specifically in order to allow students to check out devices. Comcast Essentials also provides low cost devices and Internet access to students who receive free or reduced cost lunch. Thomas says the district has shown there is a significant gap of learning between low income students and general population. He is afraid that will only exacerbate as technology increases in the classroom.

Baskett worries about the loss of the art of penmanship. She loves that the community has been so supportive of the technology in the district. She’s slightly concerned that they have set the bar high for teachers. Are new teachers required to use new technology? Swift replies that she has seen a lot of collaboration between teachers. The breadth of what is out there, Colligan says, is endless. But one of the skills they focus on is how to be helpful to yourself, how to be an adult learner.

Baskett asks if the district provides support for parents to help guide them in what to buy for their students. She worries about being able to sustain the district’s cutting edge.

Lightfoot wonders what happens with aging technology. Colligan says they use it until they can’t use it anymore. Recently posted on public surplus a lot of older teacher laptops, which were purchased.

FIRST BRIEFING ITEM: 4000 Policy Sunset Review

9:15 PM Governance Committee reviewed the 4000 (Human Resources) Policies. Most are being submitted without change; some are being offered with minimal change.

  • 4000: no changes recommended
  • 4020: title change from assistant superintendent to deputy superintendent
  • 4050: no changes recommended
  • 4100: changes made based on conversations board has had to ensure there is a diverse and well-credentialed staff, subject to the provisions of the law. Thomas wants to know if they are running contrary to the rules against Affirmative Action. David Comsa says no.
  • 4120: no changes recommended
  • 4200: no changes recommended
  • 4300: evaluation: addition of “stakeholders” Thomas says that he hears from parents that they want to know why they don’t have more of a role in teacher evaluation. He says that the changes now keep the door open for that, but do not oblige them to do so. Swift says that if a principal receives that input, it could be part of the teacher eval. Mexicotte says that evaluation is no longer a bargainable part of contracts. It is now subject to board policy.
  • 4400: changing labor relations – open channels of communication are encouraged and by whom they are established. It included the Superintendent or his/her designee.
  • 4450: change reflects practice that it is the Superintendent’s designee who finalizes contracts with bargaining units.
  • 4500: no changes recommended
  • 4600: no changes recommended. Thomas says use of “work days” is a bit ambiguous, thinks it should be changed to “work hours.” Mexicotte says she would be amenable to changing it to “hours.” If you do something on work time or using district resources, Comsa says, the board has proprietary right to any and all intellectual property. Mexicotte notes that the board has entered into agreements with  teachers in the district. Comsa notes that it is best to use a broad definition of district property. Lasinski argues not to add anything to the policy. It allows for leniency, but also allows them to “draw a line in the sand.”
  • 4650: no changes recommended
  • 4700: no changes recommended

SECOND BRIEFING ITEMS: Technology Infrastructure, Bandwidth Increase

9:40 PM Colligan says that while if just increase to an additional 3G of bandwidth instead of 2G, would cost an additional $70K per year and would need a different firewall option, which would cost more.

Thomas asks Colligan if she can give him her assurance that this bandwidth increase will alleviate the kinds of problems they’ve experienced with connectivity. Given this recommendation, Colligan says she feels it will be a sufficient daily rate right now. She says she thinks instruction and assessment should be able to happen at the same time with this increase.

Currently, the WISD pays for the district bandwidth cost.


9:44PM The trustees vote on:

  • Technology Internet Service Expansion
  • Technology Firewall Purchase

The consent agenda passes unanimously.



9:45PM Manley: attended Rec&Ed advisory meeting last night – Rec&Ed is celebrating its 100 year in 2016.

Thomas: High School Solo and Ensemble hosted at Pioneer High School. Will be doing again this weekend for Middle School Solo and Ensemble.

Baskett: encourages any person who cares about kids to stop by a school on NAAPID, next Monday. Also recommends NAAPID at Night.

Lasinski: Moody’s has upgraded AAPS’s bond rating to AA. Moody’s gave an objective comment on it’s belief in the AAPS system. Based on recent improvement in district expenditures and increased growth. Reflects strong economic profile, manageable debt burden.

Lightfoot: she and Stead held first of the year coffee klatch this past weekend. Will be holding one once a month.

Mexicotte: board was honored and privileged to receive artwork from Skyline and Community programs last week. She personally thanks the student who created her artwork: Carmella Yzaguirre.

Swift: 120 folks at Huron to learn about the International Baccalaureate meeting tonight. Informational meetings held regularly out in the community.


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