State Requirements and NWEA's DesCartes: A Continuum of Learning®

DesCartes: A Continuum of Learning® is the result of ongoing communication between NWEA and partner districts. Information and feedback has been collected at NWEA Conferences, state user group meetings, during professional development training, as well as through surveys and focus groups. It is also the result of a multi-year indexing project at NWEA which included a complete review of our expanded item bank.

DesCartes displays learning statements by utilizing both data from test items and review by NWEA curriculum specialists to place the statements into appropriate RIT ranges. Only skills and concepts tested by items contained in the NWEA item banks are listed in DesCartes. We realize that many districts have additional topic areas that will not show up in DesCartes. We encourage them to use DesCartes as a tool to supplement the resources already in use by a district.

The purpose of DesCartes is to help guide instruction based on reports from an NWEA Achievement Level Test (ALT) or computerized Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment. DesCartes enhances a teacher's ability to provide targeted instruction for individual students or groups of students.

DesCartes has many practical applications, such as:

  • Special Program Planning - When teachers apply DesCartes to programs such as gifted and talented, Title I, and ELL, NWEA believes it will serve as a guide to constantly “push the envelope” with all students in order to help them grow academically as much as possible. 
  • Curriculum Development or Revision - When district personnel use DesCartes as a resource for curriculum development or program revision, it becomes a valuable planning tool.
  • School Improvement Planning - When district personnel have knowledge of student achievement translated by DesCartes, it will likely raise questions about how to group for instruction, how to use instructional time, how to structure our schools, how to organize our staff, and how to design facilities.
  • Monitoring Student Progress - When educators want to track where students are on a continuum of learning, they can use DesCartes as a guide. Checklists can be derived from DesCartes to assist with this tracking. 
  • Individual Education Plans - When educators focus on the targeted growth of the student, DesCartes can help identify specific skills to support the student in reaching targeted goals.
  • Parent Conferencing - When parents understand how test scores translate into the skills and concepts their child is developing, they can encourage activities to engage their child in additional learning. DesCartes provides a way for teachers to communicate with parents about their child’s academic progress.

DesCartes contains separate sections for reading, language usage, mathematics-lower grades, and mathematics-upper grades. Within each subject are categories known as main goal strands. The main goal strands are then broken down into ten-point RIT ranges based on difficulty.

Within each RIT range, sub goals, which further divide content within the goal area, break down the skills and concepts found in the NWEA item banks. These skills and concepts are described in learning continuum statements. A learning continuum statement appears in the earliest RIT range where the skills and concepts it describes are prominently seen. A statement may appear in up to three consecutive RIT ranges. It is important to not only focus on the RIT range where the student is functioning, but to watch for any holes in a student's grasp of skills and concepts that may appear earlier in the continuum.

DesCartes and State Standards

NWEA has conducted scale alignment studies to examine the correspondence between the MAP assessments and state standardized tests used to measure student achievement. Each alignment study identifies the specific Rasch Unit (RIT) scale scores from MAP that correspond to the various proficiency levels for each subject (reading, mathematics, etc.) and for each student grade. Alignment studies also estimate the probability that a student with a specific RIT score would achieve a status of proficient or better on her or his state test. Because all states set their own standards for proficiency and may use different tests for measuring student achievement, alignment studies are usually necessary for each state. Using this information with the NWEA assessments and individual state-aligned version DesCartes, teachers can monitor their students' progress toward the proficiency standards for their state. Individual state DesCartes identifies only the skills and concepts that are represented by their state standards.

Teachers, instructional coaches, and curriculum specialists use their state standards alongside DesCartes in a variety of ways such as:

  • To identify holes in their curriculum.
  • To find areas not addressed at the instructional level that should be.
  • To discover areas of their curriculum mapping that need to be addressed.

State-aligned DesCartes should not replace state standards or local curriculum - there may be requirements in both that are not assessed via a multiple choice format test, and therefore would not be reflected in DesCartes.