Local schools prepare for ACT audits

BY JORDAN TRAVIS jtravis@grandhaventribune.com An unexpected visitor showed up at West Ottawa High School on March 1, the first day the Michigan Merit Examination would be administered. As 11th-grade students prepared to take the ACT exam, an auditor from ACT Inc. arrived to watch how the test was handled, Principal Kent Henson said. Every school in the state, including Spring Lake and Grand Haven high schools, prepare for the possibility of his arrival.
Jordan Travis
Mar 23, 2011


“They observe the teachers, all materials handling, everything to make sure we’re complying with ACT test regulations,” Henson said.

The auditor said that everything looked fine before he left at 2 p.m., Henson said.

West Ottawa High School and other schools in the state go through a rigorous process — not only to prepare for the possibility of being randomly audited, but to ensure that the Michigan Merit Examination is being properly administered. This includes training for any staff involved in the testing process, said Aaron West, assistant principal and testing coordinator for Spring Lake High School.

The training is done yearly by the Michigan Department of Education.

These regulations cover how the tests are handled by faculty, as well as the materials students are allowed to use while taking them, West said. To remind his staff of these rules, West said he hands out review sheets on the exam days.

The Michigan Merit Examination consists of a battery of tests over three days, West said. On the first day, students take the ACT plus Writing exam; and on the second day, they take the ACT WorkKeys exam. Science and social studies are covered on the third day in an exam created by the state.

Spring Lake High School students were in the process of taking make-up examinations over the course of last week, and students who took them earlier in the month should be getting their scores before the month’s end, West said.

To ensure that students are taking the test in an environment with as little distraction as possible, only juniors come to class on the days the MME is given, West said.

West Ottawa High School has the advantage of having two buildings, so test takers work in one building while the rest of the students attend class in the other, Henson said.

When the test is given, each room has a supervisor and a test administrator to ensure that both the staff and students are following the rules, said Maggie Phipps, the testing coordinator for Grand Haven High School. Both receive manuals on how to give and monitor the exam, she said.

The staff members keep constant watch over the students after they read instructions provided by ACT Inc. and the state.

“Throughout the whole test, they’re constantly walking around the room, making sure students are doing their testing in the right section, and not skipping ahead or moving backwards to previous tests,” she said.

This is the most common kind of irregularity that Phipps knows of, she said.

“(The students) will forget and go back to a previous test and fill in answers, so then we have to excuse them and void their answer sheets,” she said.

Some students also become ill and have to leave early. Unlike those who are found to be working on the wrong part of the exam, the sick students have an opportunity to take a makeup test, Phipps said.

Jim Griffiths is the manager for test administration and reporting for the state Department of Education. He said that irregularities due to errors on the part of students and administrators are far more common than actual wrongdoing. If a school has a question about a possible irregularity, a staff member of that school can call the state education department, Griffiths said.

Most complaints about wrongdoing don’t end with a student’s score being invalidated, said Jan Ellis, a spokesperson for the state education department.

“We have very specific guidelines and procedures for school districts to follow,” she said.

Because his staff follow these rules so closely, West said that he believed that an audit — either from the state or from ACT Inc. — would find no wrongdoing at SLHS.

“We assume that they’re coming, even though they’re probably not coming,” he said.

West said there was only one irregularity at SLHS in the past two years. In that case, a student had moved to another section of the ACT ahead of the allowed time.


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