Administrators, teachers to receive training on delivering reports from new MAP assessments

Thursday, September 27, 2007
(Photo by Kris Todd) Johnson sixth grade students Hunter White, Beth Halverson and Elizabeth Meier concentrate on the computer screen as they complete this fall's Measures of Academic Progress assessments.

By Kris Todd

Daily Reporter Staff

Ask one of Spencer's approximately 1,380 third through 11th grade public school students how they view the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessments they've been taking the past four weeks and, just like their personalities, you'll hear a variety of answers.

When coupled with results from similar tests set to take place next spring, this fall's four computer-generated, criterion-referenced assessments are designed to provide individualized information on each child's baseline of academic progress in the areas of reading, math, science and language arts. Besides satisfying No Child Left Behind legislation's requirement to measure student academic progress in two ways - the other occurs during Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) and Iowa Tests of Educational Development (ITED) norm-referenced tests taken by Spencer pupils - this criterion-referenced assessment is also designed to motivate students.

"This test will help us to see how well our students are doing in those content areas. It will also give us an accurate way to measure their progress on an individual basis," Assistant Superintendent Kathy Elliott explained. "...The data will be used not only to look at individual students, but also for teachers to look for where students fall in their class."

Knowing this information will, in turn, assist instructors in fine-tuning their individualized lesson plans, teaching strategies and educational goals for students.

"Because then, they'll be able to know what to do next," Elliott said. "One of the frustrations about the current testing that we have (with ITBS and ITED) is it may tell us a student may be doing really well or not doing so well, but we really don't have an answer for what to do next. And these assessments, I think, will give us a better gauge of not only where students are in terms of the actual content we're teaching and then where we need to go to next, but then also whether we've made progress with them or not. And, we're going to be able to know that much more accurately."

The computerized system was pilot tested last spring on 180 Spencer seventh graders, who were given the MAP math assessment.

"The primary purpose for that pilot was just to make sure our technology was working and to get all the bugs out with a smaller group of students so that we were ready to roll this fall," Elliott recalled.

Because MAP is a computerized assessment, district representatives believe it may be a more accurate test of how well students are actually performing.

"The questions students get each time are generated based on how they answer the previous one," Elliott explained, "which is quite different from an ITBS (or a paper-and-pencil ITED test), where students may not be that motivated to perform well. This one really pushes them through it as hard and fast as they can go. We'll even know, because of the way it's designed, if the student doesn't give good effort or tries to play games with it. It will let them continue to be tested, but then it will tell us later that these students' scores were invalid because of the way they answered."

While Brittany Peterson deemed the four MAP assessments, which took her approximately 20 minutes to finish, "boring," the Spencer High School (SHS) junior said she liked them better than taking the ITEDs "just because they went faster."

"But the questions were harder," added fellow SHS junior Kelly Gerdeman, who admitted she is not looking forward to taking them again this spring.

Sophomore Tim Toebes, who also thought they were "boring," said his tentative goal during the spring assessments would be to "maybe do better" and "not go through them so fast."

SHS sophomore Ben Ginger, who admitted getting out of Biology class in order to take the MAP assessments was fun, did find some of the questions posed challenging.

"Half of it was," he said. "There were some hard questions, but then it got easy and then it got hard again. But on the long ones, I didn't want to read it all, so I guessed and moved on from there."

Ginger also acknowledged preferring this type of assessment over the paper ITED tests. The sophomore then smiled as he mentioned "racing through" the computerized assessments with his brother, Zach.

"I got done in 6 minutes," Ginger said.

The MAP assessments, meanwhile, are designed to challenge every student to their potential.

Johnson sixth graders Elizabeth Meier, Beth Halverson and Hunter White all reported finding the four computerized assessments, which they wrapped up with on Tuesday, a bit "confusing" to start with, as well as "frustrating."

"It was difficult sometimes, but at other times the questions were really easy. There were 50-some questions on some of them and there were 30 on others," Halverson recalled. "...It was frustrating at times, because for every question you answered, it would come back saying, 'That's too fast' and it would add another one."

"The questions got really hard," added Meier. "And, because I'm a pretty smart child, during the reading test they were trying to make me comprehend Shakespeare. That got really frustrating because I'm only in sixth grade - and you're not really supposed to be studying Shakespeare yet until you're in, like, seventh grade or something. It just got really complicated and frustrating. It was hard."

Simply clicking a mouse, rather than getting "writer's cramp" from filling in all the bubbles on the standardized ITBS test, was a positive for White.

"(The MAP assessment was) a lot more fun because it was on the computer and you didn't have to fill in all the dots," he offered with a smile.

Halverson then attempted to summarize for all her classmates who attempted to do their best on the tests, saying she appreciated the challenge they posed.

"It pushed you in all the areas," she said. "And it just shows me that if I'm this smart, then this is really how much my potential is. And, if I can get through this, then I'll probably excel at lots of stuff."

Elliott, on the other hand, said the district sees the student data generated from the MAP assessments as a "bigger advantage."

"I think it also changes the district's goal from just trying to get a few students off the bottom end to move up. It's also going to be saying, 'We want every student to show progress,'" she said. "...We think that's going to help us individualize for students, but also to make sure that our programming is meeting the needs of all kids, not just a few kids."

While Spencer chose to give the math, science, reading and language art assessments in order to access baseline data on students in all four content areas, Elliott indicated the district may select to offer the MAP assessment differently in the future. She said after two years they may choose to select fewer 11th grade students to take the assessment. Elliott suggested district officials may also choose to monitor "certain students at the lower end" more frequently, possibly by delivering an abbreviated form of the test up to four times throughout the school year.

"Honestly, we're still in a learning process ourselves," she said. "The administrators are going to some training (offered by the Mid-Iowa School Improvement Consortium) on Oct. 1 (in Pocahontas) on how to use the data, so we'll have sort of a global understanding of what it is. We're going to get into the nitty gritty of that in the next month or two here, so that we have a much better handle on the types of reports that we can generate from this, the types of information that we can get, and then how to use that information."

From there - and armed with student MAP data from the fall assessments just completed - the district's teachers are expected to receive similar training during Oct. 31 and Jan. 30, 2008 inservices.

"From that data, we think teachers will see the value of how these will have an impact in the classroom," Elliott said of the MAP training and student testing reports Spencer representatives are expecting to generate over the next month. "...Because there's no reason to assess kids if you don't have a purpose for using it or a way to use that to have an impact on instruction and for goal setting."

"This first year," she added, "we're going to be in a learning mode in terms of how to do that. But by next year, we should have a better handle on that and be able to roll information out to parents pretty quickly in the fall. ... My anticipation is that by the spring parent-teacher conferences we'll be able to share these fall results (with parents), once we've entered the training on how to generate the reports, how to look at that information and how to use it."

"I am very excited about this because I really see the potential for this to have an impact on every student," Spencer's curriculum coordinator said of the district's new assessments. "From a parent perspective, just to be able to say, 'Here's where my student is, and here's where his strengths are and where his areas for growth are,' and to know that you have some assurance as a parent that your child has grown (is a positive). It also says that the district really has a way to measure that and a way to quantify whether students are making growth.

"So, we will be tracking much more on individual students' growth than we've ever been able to do. We've never been able to figure out how to do that well here - because you can have benchmark assessments in each classroom, but they don't always help us to measure growth. So, this is finally the way for us to really know that kids are actually making progress through the system.

"But the key, again, is we don't want to just assess kids; we want to make sure that whatever assessments we give to students are actually used."

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