Alpena adjusts to new tests for eighth-graders

ALPENA — Michigan eighth-graders are taking a new test today that school officials say will help students start thinking about the SAT in high school and life after high school.

Unlike past years’ eighth-graders, today’s eighth-graders are taking the College Board’s PSAT 8/9 test, instead of the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP), in math and English. The students are still required to take M-STEP science and social studies tests. That happens next week for Thunder Bay Junior High School students.

In prior years, students tested in all subjects on the M-STEP.

The PSAT differs from other tests because content is aligned based on the grade level assessed. It already is required for ninth- and 10th-graders and prepares students for the SAT test they’ll take their junior year in high school.

Many colleges use SAT scores as part of the admissions process.

Meaghan Gauthier, director of K-12 curriculum for Alpena Public Schools, said students taking the test in eighth grade allows the district to see trends over time, so educators can support students early with what they need to be successful when they take the SAT in high school.

A challenge, though, Gauthier said, is how rigorous the SAT Suite of Assessment — all of the pre-SAT tests and the SAT — is. The tests ask students to engage in reading and math tasks that could be difficult for them.

“If a student isn’t on a career track, they might not see the value in the assessment, because it is very college-based,” Gauthier said.

The test will give both students and district officials a good outline of how students are tracking toward being college- and career-ready.

Thunder Bay Junior High Assistant Principal Jean Kowalski said eighth grade is the right time for students to start thinking about the SAT and college, because those students will be Alpena High School students in a few months.

“This is a great way for students to get started on all the requirements that they’re going to have to meet before college and future careers,” Kowalski said.

The test will be done in a paper-and-pencil format, instead of online, Kowalski said. She said a lot of work has taken place to prepare for the test and a lot of requirements have to be fulfilled.

A whole wing of the junior high is being used today solely for the eighth-graders, so teachers have had to accommodate by moving to other classrooms.

“There are specifics for how far apart the desks need to be and where they need to be facing,” Kowalski said. “There are so many things to consider when you’re testing, especially when it’s new. It’s a big task.”

Teachers have been talking to students about the change, but Kowalski said there’s not a whole lot that can be done to prepare them for the test.

Julie Goldberg can be reached at 989-358-5688 or Follow her on Twitter @jkgoldberg12.