By Matthew Tungate
Reading and language arts teacher Marie Cavanah had a 6th grader at South Middle School (Henderson County) who didn’t like to read. He told her every day how he wanted to be out of her class.
Thanks to results from a computerized testing system used in the Henderson County school district, Cavanah was able to see that her student was strong in informational reading yet weaker in literacy reading.
She told him to “read, read, read.”
“He not only embraced the idea, but when the students took a bathroom break, he could be found in the hallway propped against the wall reading a book,” Cavanah said. “It took the entire year for the change to occur, but at the end of the year, he had gone from a 4th-grade reading level to being on grade level. It was phenomenal growth since most students achieve outstanding growth by moving one grade. The difference was that the student was motivated to change.”
Cavanah said he was motivated because he knew the specific skill to work on, and he wanted to see how he would improve on the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test.
Henderson is one of the 83 districts in the state that use the MAP tests, according to the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), the organization that markets it. The Henderson County school district has been using MAP testing for five years, according to Jinger Carter, director of accountability and assessment for Henderson County.
MAP tests adjust the difficultly of questions depending on whether a student is answering questions correctly or incorrectly. NWEA offers MAP tests in reading, mathematics, language and science. Once the test is over, students receive a score on what is called the RIT Scale. Teachers can then track a student’s RIT score over time to see progress and areas for improvement.
Carter said more than a million questions populate the MAP database, which is regularly updated to align to numerous national standards, including the Common Core State Standards. Even the 2nd- through 5th-grade version can ask difficult questions, Carter said.
“A curriculum specialist was looking over a student’s shoulder, and it was asking about Shakespeare,” she said.
MAP also offers an instructional component that allows a teacher to look up a student’s RIT score and see what topics the student has mastered and what could be introduced, Carter said
“It’s helping us make decisions instructively about each individual student,” she said.
Teachers know within 24 hours how each student scored on the test. More importantly, Carter said, MAP reports break down the results into specific strands. So a teacher would know that on the mathematics test, a student may be above grade level on data analysis and probability, at grade level on measurement and below grade level on algebraic thinking.
“You don’t only have a general math score,” she said. “It breaks it down into very specifics. Just because students have this math score doesn’t necessarily mean they’re strong in every mathematical area.”
MAP scores are nationally normed, and Henderson County considers a student scoring at grade level if his or her RIT score is in the 50th percentile.
“It helps teachers pinpoint exactly what the students are ready for instructionally, where they might need a little enrichment or where they can do some more independent projects,” Carter said. “It is a great tool to help us determine the needs of the students, those students that need intervention and exactly what interventions they need.”
Paula Manlove, a 3rd-grade teacher at A.B. Chandler Elementary, has had several students who she felt were doing well and were on level, but their MAP scores came back slightly below 3rd-grade level.
“I was able to use the MAP data to determine specific areas they were weak in that I had not seen in the regular classroom,” she said. “After giving additional instruction and help in these areas, these particular students were able to score at the 3rd-grade level when the next MAP testing took place.”
She said she also has had students who she felt were above grade level but scored only at grade level on the MAP test. So she was able to give them additional enrichment.
Students get a score, but don’t know how many they got right and wrong, Carter said.
“We have to kind of preface that with our kids that ‘this isn’t about how many you get right and how many you get wrong. We’re trying to see where you are instructionally,’” she said. “Our students can tell you their RIT scores. It’s just a common language not only in our schools but with our students and our parents.”
The reading test is 42 questions, and mathematics is 52 questions, Carter said. Testing takes about 1 1/2 to two hours, which schools usually split over two days, she said.
Cavanah said she doesn’t mind using the time for MAP testing because she uses the results to inform her teaching and differentiate her instruction.
“If I do not actively use the data, then I am just wasting valuable classroom learning time,” she said. “I don’t want to be teaching a concept that my students have already mastered.”
MAP in the classroom
Bethany Harper, a special education teacher at South Middle School, uses MAP scores to collaborate with her co-teachers.
“We use it to alter instruction based on the needs as a classroom,” she said. “We also use the data to work with students individually or in a small group during tutoring sessions outside the classroom, during times before school or during advisory time.”
Cavanah said she had a wide range of RIT scores in one classroom the first year the district used MAP. She used the results to better group her students in the classroom.
“For instance, in my reading class, I asked students to find the meaning of certain words using context clues,” she said. “For my higher RIT band students, this meant they would read a paragraph with approximately 100 words and identify the word meaning. However, for my students with a lower RIT score, it would mean they would be given a similar text with about 50 words and have to determine a specific word meaning.”
Harper said students are motivated by MAP testing, and teachers should be prepared to incorporate goals for them.
“Students need to know that they have the power to improve their scores and to seek help with content areas they struggle in,” she said. “Being in the middle school level, I have seen it push students to want to try harder in the classroom.”
Teachers in districts that have just started using MAP or will be using it soon should “get ready,” Cavanah said, because students really take ownership for their academic performance and growth.
“I think that has been the greatest impact for our students and our school,” she said. It is amazing to watch the seriousness at which our students take the MAP test. They want to excel and will work hard to improve their scores each time they test.”