Michigan – A Look at How the State is Preparing for Online Testing

Michigan’s coordinated efforts to prepare for statewide online student assessments began turning from vision to reality in 2011 when the Legislature committed to allocating approximately $50M annually to the effort through the 22i Technology Readiness Infrastructure Grant (TRIG). While not the total amount that will be needed to prepare Michigan’s over 800 public schools to take the online assessments, educators across the state agree that TRIG has been a substantial step in the right direction. Since then, Michigan has been on the fast track to installing the infrastructure, personnel, and supports needed to realize the state’s vision of preparing 1.5 million students to begin taking online assessments by 2014-2015. Leaders in Michigan are completing preparations in multiple areas simultaneously whereas other states have proceeded more sequentially. Many partners are contributing to the massive effort spanning 97,000 square miles and crossing two peninsulas. As of the fall of 2013, online exams are offered in science and social studies, though plans are underway to increase the scope of assessments administered online.

“Michigan has decided to look at online learning in a holistic way and that’s what sets TRIG apart; it’s why it’s challenging but also why it’s truly a unique opportunity for the state.”

– Tim Hall, TRIG Operations Project Director


TRIG Goals

The centralization of efforts at the state level through TRIG created a structure for distributing the $50M annually as grant dollars that fund the specific aspects of online assessment readiness needed by each school district. TRIG’s four goals span both the infrastructure and human aspects of online assessment readiness:

  • Develop a statewide interconnected network to support reliable, unencumbered access to online assessment
  • Establish collective purchasing contracts for learning devices;
  • Leverage regional networks to facilitate consolidation and increase the level of network-based services available to all regions in Michigan; and
  • Build capacity to assist educators in planning and implementing the best practices and technology required to support the next generation of assessment, teaching, and learning.

TRIG Leadership structure and approach

Knowing that achieving the MDE’s vision on a short timeline would require many operational aspects, TRIG has its own administrative leadership that oversees much of the work detail and coordinates activities moving forward. A three-pronged approach has contributed to TRIG successes to date:

  • Active communication channels and frequent messages.  There are a number of ways that information is shared as part of the TRIG grant.  First, local meetings and discussions take place through the regional consortia.  For example, TRIG project managers held mini-workshops (overview and video) during the fall of 2013 in each region to bolster district-level awareness about the TRIG grant’s four goals and seven key activities. Second, a weekly newsletter and listserv help to keep people on top of information and changes.  Third, various regular meetings take place to address issues that arise: monthly among the steering committee and project managers, and bi-weekly between the Bureau of Assessment and Accountability and the TRIG office.
  • Alignment of multiple complex projects coordinated in one operations office with the centralized responsibility for overseeing all TRIG functions, supporting local implementation, ensuring online assessment readiness among teachers and students, and facilitating equitable access to TRIG resources across the state.
  • Five Regional consortia and the TRIG steering committee work together with TRIG operations staff to assure equitable representation and access to TRIG activities.

TRIG Funds Distribution

TRIG Priority Amount Detail
District participation $14.7M At approximately $10 per student, monies could be spent on: network services, computer/device purchasing pilot, in-building wireless connectivity, technology readiness and/or online/digital assessment.
Consortium leadership $0.48M Five regional consortia work with the districts in their areas to ensure statewide engagement in the TRIG initiatives. Each consortium has representation on the TRIG steering committee. Consortia also have advisory committees with representation from their constituent districts, increasing the level of representation and effectiveness of communication throughout the state.
Statewide activities $18.0M Three types of statewide activities have been happening simultaneously as a result of TRIG:

  1. Planning for building the statewide education network
  2. Collaborative services such as device purchasing, e-rate, and data systems integration
  3. Professional learning – TRIG operations office, Michigan Technology Readiness Assessment tool (MTRAx), classroom readiness, education achievement authority, and assessment and curriculum readiness
District consortium confirmation $0.73M Each consortium determined the best way to spend their funds at a regional level to support online test readiness.
Building the statewide education network (SEN) $16M Click here for a preliminary overview of the background, environment, process, and timeline for creating the SEN in accordance with the TRIG grant, prepared by the SEN Advisory Group.


Early TRIG Outcomes in Four Areas


Cost efficiency

  • Through coordinated device purchasing via a collaborative statewide bid process TRIG was able to save $9.5M over the previous approach, and provide districts with approximately $5M in incentives that could be applied to additional technology purchases that comply with the state’s educational technology plan.
  • Vendors such as Apple, Sehi and Dell have provided monies and in-kind support for teacher professional development.

Apple – $210,000 (in-kind) one-day professional development for 700 educators in October and November 2013, coordinated regionally
Dell – $417,400 training for educators, coordinated regionally
Sehi – $34,375 to be used for any professional development


  • The statewide education network planning process is mapping the state’s interconnected infrastructure capacities in preparation for building the network.
  • The Michigan Technology Readiness Tool (MTRAx) pilots and statewide deployment provide technology readiness data to all districts.  In 2013, TRIG undertook a substantial effort to evaluate the statewide infrastructure by rolling out a needs analysis called the Michigan Technology Readiness Tool (MTRAx) that inventories and displays the specific steps involved for each school (LEA, PSA, and ISD) to achieve online assessment readiness down to the school/building level.  The goal is to be able to answer the question of what it will cost to install the necessary network, internet capacity, devices and upgrades needed to be fully test ready at the building level, and to project the cost associated with future maintenance and upgrades.
  • Webinars and professional development sessions have been held to support teachers’ implementation of best practices for 21st Century technology use.  More will be done in this area to support the broad spectrum of teacher readiness for online testing currently in place across the state.


  • Total awards to districts:  $14.692M
  • 96.1% of FTE students in Michigan are participating in TRIG activities.
    • 1.47M students
    • 56 ISDs                 
    • 542 LEAs        
    • 136 PSAs
  • TRIG’s Data Systems Integration pilot involves 25 LEAs with 178 school buildings serving 84,014 students.
  • 230 of 541 LEAs and 52 out of 56 ISDs participated in the TRIG device purchasing initiative.
  • Cheryl-Marie Manson, Director of Instructional Services for Allegan Public Schools in Allegan, Michigan, oversees special education, curriculum, and technology across all seven schools in the district.  The district has seen first hand how technology has become an elevated priority over the past two years; particularly as substantial building construction and technology infrastructure upgrades were completed over the summer of 2013.  That project included new switches, increased redundancy, and upgraded fiber district-wide, as well as provisions for some amount of instructional-use technology (e.g. document cameras, interactive white boards) and student-use devices (e.g. laptops, tablets) in all classrooms.  Manson advocates for a “What is the purpose for these devices?” protocol that requires every device purchase to align with state’s educational technology plan and also the district’s instructional plan.   Doing so, Manson urges, “keeps us in check so we can use our resources wisely.”

Looking Ahead

As of the fall of 2013, online exams are offered in science and social studies. The foundation established through TRIG will contribute substantially to statewide readiness for expanded online assessments.