So, the great and powerful Madison School District has started MAP testing and the results are, well, as they should have expected when viewed as a whole. White kids are above national averages and children of color are below them. MAP testing stands for Measures of Academic Progress. They are taken at the computer by each student and the questions are tailored to the individual student. They keep answering questions until they hit the wall of achievement level and the test is ended. Scores are known immediately and areas of strength and areas that need improvement are highlighted FOR EACH KID. It is supposed to be a tool for teachers to use in order to more adequately provide instruction in their classroom. This is called differentiated instruction, or DI in the education vernacular. MAP results are not really effective for national achievement comparison.
OK, I'm going out on a limb here and going to say to the critics of ECSD that we have been doing MAP testing in our district for 5 years now. My newly minted graduate was in the guinea pig group in 7th grade, so I am keyed in on this topic. We can thank Paula Landers for being ahead of the curve on implementing this tool. What seems to escape the writer of the article as well as our district is this. It's very nice to know how one's district stacks up as a whole against the state (WKCE) and nation (MAP, NAEP), but what exactly does this data provide in the way of improving individual student achievement? Exactly squat. In this world of inclusive learning, school districts must have tools to provide DI for all levels of learners. If you insist on teaching to some arbitrary mean that various test data indicates as the level of your class, you'll lose the top 30 and bottom 30 percent of the curve. That's 60 percent of the students being lost. Used properly, MAP results could be a very effective tool for the teaching arsenal to solve this problem.
Sadly, it is my experience that my kids' teachers use it to verify what they already know about my kids, that they are above average, and use their MAP data to rationalize being satisfied with mediocre performance the rest of the year "because they are still above their peer average." I have no data to indicate it is otherwise with other children. In fact, I have spoken to other parents with similar issues. In addition, over 35 percent of the students in the quadrant report that began the school year above their peer group in reading in our district in 10-11 did not reach the achievement goal the MAP test sets for them. It seems that the district thinks it's OK that a child does not achieve to their potential. I am not of the same opinion.
The most recent instance of this injustice for us was during my son's 5th grade "education." This child has an enormous vocabulary due to being the third child behind two extremely high achieving sisters in language arts. He had to learn or forever be a victim of verbal warfare. I never spoke baby talk to him and encouraged this language skill too. However, as with many boys, he is less than thrilled with anything that requires him to read something other than anime and if you assign him to write something, one would think he has been asked to sever a limb or something. Thank you Boy Scouts for the merit badge documentation requirements, by the way. But I digress.
Not only did my kid fail to reach his personal achievement goal set for him by the MAP test (gain less than they projected he should), but he ended 5th grade at a lower achievement level in reading than where he started. This loss of achievement happened while he got straight As all year long in language arts. I began a slow burn that has not stopped. I went to the principal, I went to the teacher and I went to the administrator in charge. "He started out so high that it was hard for him to achieve." This is an unacceptable response. My child deserves to show some damn achievement after a year of instruction. I don't care if he started out higher than the mediocre goals you set for the masses. This is thievery, plain and simple. That year, as I recall, the entire grade level failed to meet the 50% level, which basically says they have achieved grade level performance. Interpretation of MAP results is a bit confusing, so go with me here. Anything less than 50% for a grade level indicates they have not achieved a years worth of learning. There has been a shake up in the 5th grade teaching team, but I think it goes beyond individual teachers. If there is an endemic attitude that high achieving students are OK to ignore and an insistence on mistakenly using MAP data to compare to national averages (like the article in the Madison paper did) instead of using it for the amazing tool it could be, there will be no dang improvement in overall achievement.
A shift to using this data as it was designed will help every single kid in the district. Students with cognitive disabilities need to feel individual achievement, too. Did I do better than I did last year? They don't want to know how they compare to the average. They already know the answer to that question. They wouldn't be in special ed if the answer to that question wasn't obvious. If each child at the lower end of achievement gains skills, the overall achievement scores will increase. Same for the high end kids. And the middle kids. Basically, teachers need to find a way to engage every student. This is the working definition of both an exceptional educator and differentiated instruction. Go forth and educate. Use the MAP tests for the purpose they were intended. Allow all students to gain academic achievement regardless of their start point.