State Superintendent Mike Flanagan Visits Pattengill

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan (left) and AAPS Superintendent Jeanice Swift (right) walk and talk inside Pattengill.

Sophia Werthmann

There are about two million public school children in Michigan, and many of State Superintendent Mike Flanagan’s choices affect them all. On April 21, he visited Pattengill Elementary School and was swept into the boisterous and exciting world of young students. He was taken on a tour through the school, viewing multiple classrooms and marveling at colorful artwork displayed on the walls. Overall, Flanagan felt he had a positive experience. “We’ve always been impressed [by the Ann Arbor Public Schools], and today added to that,” he said.

Others who also attended the visit day included Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent Jeanice Swift, and AAPS Director of Communications Liz Nowland-Margolis.

Soon, a decision that Flanagan has been a part of will likely find its way into most classrooms across the state. This choice deals with replacing the MEAP (Michigan Educational Assessment Program). A new test that is called the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) has plans to enter schools in the spring of 2015, and will evaluate grades three through eleven. “We’re changing from the fall to the spring, so that you’re not hit right away after summer vacation with trying to show what you learned,” the State Superintendent said. He also explained that, “The MEAP has been around for decades, and we just didn’t have the money to upgrade it.”

Flanagan feels that the new test is important and viable because the SBAC is an equitable way to evaluate teachers. He believes that teachers’ ability to educate shouldn’t just be measured by how well the kids do on the test. “Let’s say a you’re a kindergarten teacher, and kids have never been read to in their home, you shouldn’t be responsible for that, but you should be able to get growth by the end of the year,” he said.

Due to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium’s young age, it is structured differently from the MEAP. While for years, the MEAP was taken on paper, the SBAC will be taken on a computer. Thus, the new test provides teachers and students with immediate results. Also, the SBAC takes a different approach on how to test kids. Instead of asking many questions on the same topic and level to assess student mastery, the test questions will change based on what the student answers correctly. “If you demonstrate mastery of one area, you skip the rest of those questions,” Flanagan explained.

The SBAC isn’t an exclusive test for Michigan. In fact, 30 states are working together to develop it with 300 million dollars they received from the federal government.

Since Flanagan was appointed as State Superintendent in 2005, he has visited 70 districts. He is the longest serving in the country, and plans to retire in July of 2015, after the SBAC premieres in schools.

Some people oppose statewide testing in schools, but Flanagan’s opinion is that, “Tests are gruesome in some ways, but that’s how you measure whether or not we’re learning and ready for college or a career.”

Besides being a part of getting rid of the MEAP, Flanagan has been included in other major decisions. In his first year as State Superintendent, he was involved in changing the Michigan Merit Curriculum, which provides the requirements for what courses students have to take to graduate.

In past years, Flanagan was the Superintendent of Farmington Public Schools in Michigan, and even before then he was a teacher. “I’ve always wanted to be an educator, and I taught for a while and then kind of went through the ranks, but the initial [thing] is helping kids,” he said. It seems that through his experience and other actions, he has achieved this goal.