If this year’s Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test spring trial, organized by the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS), proved anything, it’s that educators and principals within the OACS community want to thoughtfully explore the ways that assessment can contribute to good learning.
Created by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), MAP tests are computer based tests that measure each child’s instructional level and academic growth throughout the school year in a wide array of subject areas. The aim of the assessment tool is to place the child at the very centre of the educational learning experience—so that teachers can clearly identify their students’ strengths and knowledge gaps, and set appropriate goals with each learner.
Having participated in the spring trial, three OACS Schools—Northumberland Christian School, Laurentian Hills Christian School and Knox Christian School—are planning to participate in the MAP test assessment program next year.
There are a few reasons these learning communities want to give the new testing tool a try. The MAP tests, though not without their challenges, offer a number of unique advantages that the widely used Canadian Tests of Basic Skills (CTBS) did not.
“What the Map test does is give you the ability to do the test more often throughout the year,” said Paul Marcus, Principal of Knox Christian School (KCS) in Bowmanville. “It takes about an hour per test, and you’re doing it three or four times a year, which means you’re getting real time results—the reports are coming in less than 24 hours later, so you have access in your hands to the data you need right away”.
This differs from CTBS, he explained, which only give teachers “a very small snap shot of what the student was capable of every two years”.
Laurentian Hills Christian School Principal, Ian Timmerman, had similar reflections to share.
“We appreciated how quickly we received the data from MAP, within 24 hours of students taking the test the results were available online for teachers” he said.
The depth of the data impressed him, too. According to Timmerman, MAP tests allow teachers to “drill down to find what specific topics students have mastered or need more support”.
Part of that has to do with the testing tool’s responsive and adaptive design. Each question presented on a MAP test will either be followed by a harder question or an easier question, depending on the student’s answer. This allows teachers to pin point learning gaps and determine whether a student is ready to engage with more advanced concepts in a particular subject area.
Timmerman’s MAP test goals are threefold. He hopes that MAP tests will help the school analyze its curriculum, based on the average scores of LHCS students for areas of strength and areas of growth, provide staff with another resource to measure learning and growth for students, and offer the LHCS parent community and prospective parents a sense of how well the school is performing compared to other schools.
Megan, a student at LHCS in grade 6, describes aspects of the computer based test as “less stressful” than the CTBS.
“Once you’re done with a question, you never have to see it again” she explains. “You’re not going back, thinking, oh did I get that right?”
Some of her peers would agree, but others say they prefer an old fashioned pencil and paper approach to testing—seeing the questions laid out on a page gives them a better idea of how much time they have to work through the test. Megan and her classmates explained that the jump between an easy and a difficult MAP test question is often dramatic. When it came to reading comprehension, a few students were daunted by the unfamiliar vocabulary, and the long passages presented before certain questions. But others were used to reading on a computer screen and felt comfortable with the test’s electronic format.
Although LHCS students were eager to know how they did, they and other MAP test participants might find it helpful to remember that the purpose of the assessment tool isn’t just about measuring how one child stacks up to his peers, or relates to the “norm” based on grade average—a fact both Timmerman and Marcus appreciate.
Marcus is especially impressed by the way that the MAP testing tool is designed first and foremost to track individual student growth.
“It might turn out that through this test you realize that a student who is below grade average is exhibiting more growth for the school year than somebody who is above grade level,” he said.
Marcus believes that teachers will likely find that kind of information useful, especially as they seek to meet the different learning needs in their classrooms.
“Whether it’s differentiating instruction or creating ability level groups in order to meet the needs of individual students—that data would be there right away for you to be able do that.”
What will have to be proven for him, he said, is how well staff will actually be able to use it to shape the way they teach.
“My hope would be that in August we’ll work with teachers on how to implement the test—looking at what it can do, planning out when we’re going to do it, and then talking about how it can inform our instruction … I fully know that the first year is going to be a trial, it’s going to be a learning curve. It’s going to be about figuring out how best we can do this.”
For OACS Director of Learning, Justin Cook, this year’s MAP test pilot project was rooted first and foremost in a desire to see kids grow.
“Our exploration of MAP is not an attempt to join the movement toward “standardization” of education that we see quite prevalent in the United States,” he said. “Our goal in exploring MAP is to deepen teachers and students’ ability to understand very specifically each student’s current level of abilities in core skills—numeracy and literacy—so that we can help support each student more effectively in their ongoing skill development.”
Cook pointed out that students receive the results of their own assessments, and that educators can access the students’ results in a variety of contexts to support each child.
“By taking the assessment in a student-friendly online format twice a year—as opposed to every other year (CTBS), we can know more specifically how each child is progressing in their growth and can plan specific interventions as needed for each child to succeed.”