It’s been a quiet March and April for the Academics Blog. But we’re back in action, with a renewed focus on questions related to teaching and learning across the Archdiocese. And as the Spring testing window for NWEA MAP Growth assessments opens this week, many of our teachers are asking: How should we approach this assessment and use it productively to help fulfill our instructional goals? Valid questions worth considering as we begin to wrap up the 2017-2018 cycle of NWEA testing and anticipate the 2018-2019 cycle.
But rather than offer a point-by-point defense of this Archdiocesan student learning assessment, I’m going to spend time in this post posing questions that will (I hope) guide your thinking about how to make sense of this assessment as one part of the teaching and learning culture in your schools. I encourage faculty throughout the Archdiocese to use the thoughts in this post to spark inquiry about the use and application of the NWEA MAP Growth assessments in your buildings.
Recently, I’ve been reading Christine Sleeter and Judith Carmona’s Unstandardizing Curriculum. This book really pushed my thinking about the relationship among instruction, curriculum, and assessment as well as the ways schools either do or do not create culturally relevant and responsive environments for their students and communities. I strongly recommend this book if you are considering reevaluating your school’s scope and sequence or if you are engaging in a curriculum audit right now. I’d also be willing to work with your school’s instructional leadership team to have a structured book discussion about this text if you plan on doing a summer book study with your faculty.
But it was the chapter on assessment in this book that struck me as most relevant during this season of spring MAP testing. Sleeter and Carmona ask a straightforward question in the beginning of this chapter: “Assessment generally asks how well students learned the curriculum. But what is assessment to be used for, to whom is it accountable, and how does it shape curriculum?” (p. 62). As it applies to NWEA MAP Growth, do you have a common (school-wide) understanding about the relationship between MAP assessments and your articulated curriculum goals? Are you (at the school or classroom level) using MAP in a way that helps you hold yourselves professionally responsible for meeting these goals?
At the Archdiocesan level, we at the CSO encourage schools to use MAP Growth results as a signal: a set of information that helps to diagnose student learning needs alongside school and class-based assessments of learning. It is one source (among many) of standards-based information that can help to clarify other curricular or instructional questions that may arise. Rather than punish schools for not reaching a certain achievement or growth percentile benchmark, we at the CSO ask that schools look across historical trends in their data, do occasional analyses of key standards-based areas where there is room for improvement, or identify learning needs they may not have otherwise emerged out of classroom-based assessments.
We want MAP to be a tool (among many other tools) that will provide you with information to help you accomplish three primary goals: to enhance your curricular offerings (are you offering a rigorous, standards-based PreK through 8th grade experience?); to rethink instructional approaches to better meet students’ differentiated learning needs (how do you go about meeting all students’ learning needs and do you have evidence of the success of your methods?); and to remain true to our Catholic mission to serve each child according to her or his needs. But, looking inward, since we also acknowledge MAP Growth assessments should not limit or circumscribe a school’s instructional vision or curricular scope and sequence: have we created the right conditions in the Archdiocese to help schools make sense of MAP as a way to probe student learning more deeply? Have we provided at the CSO the tools to help schools use MAP Growth to aid the continuous improvement of their curriculum and instruction?
Knowing that there’s always more work to be done in the supports we offer to you all, today I want to provide a quick guide for schools who want to ask these MAP-related questions of themselves. In their chapter, Sleeter and Carmona provide a list of questions to guide faculty discussion about school assessments. I’m going to highlight a few that apply directly to MAP as we journey together through this spring window. It’s important to note, though, that unlike your class- or school-based assessments, MAP is not an assessment of content or whether or not a student is “ready” to move from one grade to the next. Rather, it tells us what students’ abilities and strengths are across multiple different areas with reference to “typical” student performance at certain grade levels. It provides us information about the relative strengths and areas of growth for our classes that can aid in differentiated grouping strategies. But it can’t tell us whether or not a student has on a daily basis demonstrated their learning in multiple, rigorous ways in terms of the school-based expectations we have for those students. So with that being said...
“To what extent do assessment processes facilitate students showing what they know and can do?"
How do you use MAP results in your classrooms and schools to reflect what information MAP does and does not provide? How can the three-times-a-year assessment structure of MAP allow us to reinforce for students what is and is not important about this particular, individual assessment of their learning?
“To what extent do assessment results guide ongoing instruction?”
The Next Generation Student Learning Profiles provide an incredibly rich and detailed set of evidence about student learning drilling down to the standards level. How much time is allotted after each of the three assessment windows to make sense of this information (even just in small chunks)? How can we use this reporting feature in coordination with other in-school assessments to find out areas of potential reteaching or remediation needed within our curriculum?
“To what extent do criteria and standards for student performance facilitate communication about expectations in a way that is meaningful to students and their parents?”
How transparent are you with students about what MAP does and does not “do” for them, for us, for the school? How transparent are you with parents about these same points? What information do you provide parents and students about how you use MAP in your school? What additional learning is needed at the student or parent level to make better sense of MAP within your school community?
Sleeter and Carmona articulate what they view to be the real purpose of assessment in schools: “Assessment can be empowering when used as a tool for students to show what they know and can do, and for teachers and students to articulate clearly what they are working toward, judge progress and give feedback using understandable yardsticks, and gauge the rigor and integrity of the curriculum in meaningful terms” (p. 76). Our goal in the Archdiocese is to have the NWEA MAP Growth assessments serve these purposes. It might not always feel that way during a given testing window, but we continue to work to develop better systems of support (at the school and Archdiocesan levels) to accomplish our goals. Because what matters most is that we are providing faith-filled and rigorous academic learning environments for our students. This tool is one that might just help us do that. And as always, we at the CSO are open to suggestions from the field about how to use this diagnostic, analytic tool in more productive and student-centered ways.
Sleeter, C.E., & Carmona, J.F. (2017). Un-standardizing curriculum: Multicultural teaching in the standards-based classroom (2nd ed.). Teachers College Press: New York, NY.
CSO Academics Blog
Director of Academics, Andrew Miller, will post regular commentaries in this space about teaching and learning throughout the Archdiocese.