If you were to search a database or the Internet for information about the rationale for standardized testing, you’d surely find arguments against the value of testing, writ large. But, according to some researchers, the idea that testing “impedes opportunities for productive, meaningful teaching” is an “oft-repeated axiom [that] has become accepted as true without proof” (Lahey, 2014). In other words, it is not true. In fact, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that testing actually benefits students in many numbers of ways.
Indeed, at RCLS, that is our firm conviction––and the reason that our 1st-8th grade students take the NWEA MAP assessment in the fall and again in the spring and our Kindergarten students take it in the spring. As I write, our students are wrapping up their fourth day of testing this week. It is important to note that this is time not lost for instruction, but, instead, time spent shaping instruction. Here’s why:
RCLS uses NWEA’s MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) to measure student growth, shape how teachers differentiate instruction, evaluate educational programming, and even structure curriculum. This is clearly not an inconsequential task. According to NWEA, “computer adaptive MAP assessments reveal precisely which academic skills and concepts the student has acquired and what they’re ready to learn.” In layman’s terms, that means that a student sits down to a test on a laptop and proceeds through the test at his/her own pace until he reaches unfamiliar content. The test adapts to each student, measures what she knows, and, ultimately, reveals gaps in learning. In short, the MAP test does what a test is supposed to do: “ask students to look into their wells of knowledge, locate information, and express that knowledge on the page” (Lahey, 2014)—or keyboard, as the case may be.
NWEA says that the data collected in a testing session “is powerful and can be put to great use to improve instruction and student learning” (Converse, 2015). Consider the ways MAP data help RCLS students and teachers alike:
1. To compare and predict student achievement. It is important to note that although the NWEA offers individualized testing through the MAP tool, test data is normed against nation-wide, grade-level data. In other words, MAP testing is the best of both worlds: individualized and standardized testing. At the same time that it is an individualized assessment tool, it is also a tool that helps us understand how RCLS students perform within the context of students across the U.S.
2. As a universal screener. Unlike most standardized tests, the MAP assessments “adapt beyond grade level to find the true level of a student’s performance, helping educators identify at-risk students and build a learning plan” (Converse, 2015). This means that the MAP test is a critical tool for identifying significant learning needs.
3. For differentiated instruction. Differentiated instruction is one of RCLS’s key educational approaches, so this MAP benefit makes it the right assessment tool for our educational philosophy. According to NWEA, “MAP data make it easy to identify learning levels so teachers can engage in differentiated instruction and skill-based grouping that leads to positive results for every child” (Converse, 2015). A quick peek into RCLS classrooms will suggest that this is a benefit our students experience every day.
4. For student goal setting. According to Henry L. Roedinger III, a cognitive psychologist at Washington University, “‘formative assessments’ are designed to discover what students do and do not know in order to shape teaching during and after the test” (as cited in Lahey, 2014). NWEA’s MAP is considered a “formative” assessment in that it “expose[s] gaps in knowledge at the time of the assessment so teachers may adjust future instruction accordingly” (Converse, 2015). Critically, a teacher may note patterns in the data, which, together with curriculum standards, inform classroom goals for the year.
5. For parent communication. Because RCLS administers the test in the fall and again in the spring, teachers can identify individual and classroom needs, and parents may see where students are starting from and, ultimately, track their growth over time.
Here at RCLS, we have chosen to administer the NWEA MAP test because we think it is a best-in-class assessment, a tool that measures individual progress and needs at the same time that it considers normative performance levels. We are blessed to have a teaching staff that is committed to differentiated instruction and academic excellence AND to have the equipment and facilities with which to administer this valuable assessment tool.
Thank you to The Grace Foundation!
You may remember that at last spring’s Blue & White Night, The Grace Foundation and RCLS supporters raised the capital to increase our bandwidth so that we have the capability to have hundreds of students online at the same time. The NWEA MAP test was a significant motivation for this initiative. In the past, each time we administered the NWEA, we pushed our existing limit, making testing a slow, frustrating experience for some. After extensive rewiring and the installation of a fiber-optic system, we are delighted to report that every student in the building completed MAP testing at his/her own pace––not the pace set by a limited bandwidth. What an incredible educational benefit to our students!
In short, The Grace Foundation empowered RCLS to take what was already a sophisticated technology program and make it an enviable, state-of-the-art system. The numbers are astounding: we went from 60 Mb/second to 300 Mb/second. Even more exciting is the possibilities that yet remain. At the peak of testing, we used just over 40 percent of our capacity. In layman’s terms, again, that means there is a whole lot of bandwidth yet to use––and a world of exciting ways to begin to use it.
RCLS is so grateful for its partners. Thank you, The Grace Foundation!
Lahey, J. (2014, Jan 14). Students should be tested more, not less. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/01/students-should-be-tested-more-not-less/283195/
Converse, J. (2015, Oct 8). Six ways MAP data can help students and teachers. The Learning Blog. Retrieved from https://www.nwea.org/blog/2015/six-ways-map-data-can-help-students-and-teachers/