High-stakes MAP?

here-be-dragonsThe other morning my daughter read about how the ISAT was being phased out.

She's 10. She's homeschooled this year, for a season.

She's the kind of kid who likes standardized tests.

"Mommy," she began. "What does it mean that the ISAT won't be used any longer?"

Well, I explained, they're phasing it out. So this is the last year it is being used at all. It isn't going to be used for selective enrollment purposes, or rating the schools or teachers, principal evaluation, promotion to the next grade, or summer school.

So they need a new test for those things, I said.

You know it. You took this one for a few years. Remember the MAP test? That one. That's what they're using for all that stuff.

"But--" she hesitated a moment.

"That's not the right kind of test for that."

What do you mean, I asked.

"Well our teachers always told us, this is for us to know the best way to teach you. This doesn't count for your grades or your school or anything. It's just to tell us where you are so we can teach you the best way. That's what they always said."

Mmm hmm.

"Mommy, it's not the right kind of test. It has questions on it that your teachers don't even teach you about. Things you never cover in school."

We talked about what was on the MAP test and what wasn't.

Some schools used to use the science ISAT scores for their own admissions decisions. Does that test cover science, I asked.

"No, there's no science on it."

We are quiet for a few moments.

"Mom, are you sure about this? I don't think that's right. I don't think they're switching to MAP. It's not the right kind of test."

But it's what they said, honey. It's the plan.


Where is it we're going here, exactly?

I'm assuming that the use of the NWEA MAP as the CPS high-stakes test is temporary, just until the PARCC is ready to use. Because nowhere on the NWEA website is this assessment referred to as a high-stakes test.

In fact it is repeatedly cited as a "formative" rather than "summative" assessment. Summative tests, like the name implies, summarize what students know at an end point, and take months to grade and return, and aren't very efficient at helping teachers gauge students and shape their instruction. Formative tests, meanwhile, are given on an ongoing basis. They help shape teachers' efforts with their students and guide curricular decisions on the school level.

The MAP's biggest selling point is that its results are immediate and frequent, since it is typically given three times per year. It is intended to supply teachers with very individualized information on every child. Principals can use the data to see learning growth in classrooms and guide their professional development decisions. Districts can use the data to see growth over time. And, the website adds, "school/district administrators use MAP to predict proficiency on high stakes tests."

In other words, the MAPmakers, just like my daughter, do not consider this to be a high stakes test. They did not design it as a test used for grade promotion, selective enrollment applications, teacher evaluation, or district-wide funding decisions.  Why CPS is using this test in such a way, even for one year, is puzzling.

But then, every decision made about testing this year seems unnecessarily random, impulsive, late, and not, unfortunately, made with children in mind. The CEO wishes to give the ISAT one last time for exactly no reason, classrooms face up to 24 standardized assessments per year, and now the MAP's been staked out as the non-high-stakes high stakes test of choice. Where are we heading now, as our district wanders off the MAP'S own map?

If you have a minute, why don't you give Barbara Byrd Bennett's office a call (312/553-1500) and ask them?

In this post I'm questioning the MAP's use as a high stakes test. Many folks have considered the basic validity of the MAP, if you'd like to look further into that. The largest study of the MAP's classroom impact is here (spoiler alert: the MAP was found to have no impact on 4th or 5th grade reading levels). An incisive blog post questioning the legitimacy of "secure" tests like the MAP, in which neither parents, teachers, principals nor district officials ever see the questions, is here.

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