By Michigan Fellow Mike Lerchenfeldt

Teachers, parents, and students often felt powerless when it came to the topic of government-mandated standardized tests such as the Michigan Student Test for Educational Progress (M-STEP). 

It was difficult for teachers and parents to understand if the amount of time spent on standardized testing was actually necessary and beneficial to students. Hours were taken away from teaching and learning time last school year in order to administer the M-STEP. This was a problem. 

The M-STEP was also an online test. This took computer time away from teachers and students who needed them for instructional and learning purposes. There were also technology problems such as software failures, which extended the amount of time taken from teaching and learning. 

Teachers across the state had issues with the M-STEP. Many teachers felt that standardized tests were an unreliable and inaccurate measure of student growth. The toxic environment created by standardized testing had a negative impact on teacher and student morale due to the increase in pressure and wasted time. Many teachers felt that standardized tests should not be on the cutting edge of education because the practice promotes teaching to the test, which can be counterproductive and dehumanizing. Alternative assessments such as observations, performance tasks, and portfolios should also be used to measure and improve student educational progress. 

Frustrated teachers and parents rose up with an “iron fist” demanding less time for standardized testing and more time for learning. They had enough. 

After listening to public opinions, complaints, and feedback, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) shortened the length of the M-STEP. This shows the importance of educator voice. As a Michigan Educator Voice Fellow, I play a role in the engagement between Michigan teachers and the MDE. 

Teachers need to be respected as other professionals. They need to have a voice in the ongoing efforts surrounding education reform movements. In Michigan, lawmakers have seemed to accept the importance of educator voice when developing education policies. Most states have projects similar to the Michigan Educator Voice Fellowship. 

All teachers have valuable experiences and insights from the classroom frontlines that could be shared in order to help shape and influence education reform. The Michigan Educator Voice Fellowship provides support and training for teachers and administrators who want to share their valuable experiences and insights with local, state, and federal policymakers. Fellows learn how to effectively engage policymakers and the public through blogging, social media, and public forums. 

All teachers should start a blog and share their education stories and initiatives on social media. This would enhance the teaching profession in addition to building a stronger Professional Learning Network (PLN). Most bloggers do not get paid. However, they do it anyway because they want their voice and passions to be heard. This is proof that we can improve education with better communication systems. 

Teachers need to celebrate and encourage innovation in schools. Teachers seem to be “sharing people” by nature. Better communication systems would allow more opportunities for teachers to connect, engage, and collaborate with each other. 

New teachers need to have coaches and mentors in order to help them “learn the ropes”. These communication systems can assist with professional development and improvement. All schools need to create a Professional Learning Community (PLC).  

The effective technology resources available for communication in schools are endless. There are Twitter Chats everyday allowing teachers to collaborate with each other and share their united voice. Voxer Groups are an excellent way to communicate within a PLC or PLN. These technology resources can also be used to involve parents and community partners. This strategy can improve the school culture by increasing the communication about high expectations and student progress. It is essential for teachers and parents to communicate and work together to close achievement and attitude gaps in schools. 

Teachers, administrators, and community members are needed to play a role in education reform and policy decisions. Communication is the key to creating and  maintaining quality schools.

Mike Lerchenfeldt earned his Bachelors of Science Degree in Elementary Education from Oakland University and his Masters of Education Degree in Educational Leadership from Saginaw Valley State University. Since 2008, he has been a math and science teacher in the Chippewa Valley Schools. He is a member of the Michigan Educator Voice Fellowship, Michigan Education Association, and Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning. Connect on Twitter @mj_lerch.