MAP Test Design as Informed by NWEA Guiding Principles

This is the second post in a series of blogs about how MAP assessments are aligned to content standards.   This post was authored by NWEA content specialists Eric Dombrowik, Alane Ferland, and Roy Beven.

The previous post discussed how NWEA’s process of item alignment ensures that MAP assessment items accurately measure skills and concepts reflected in standards.  In this post, we will describe how NWEA’s tests are designed so that students are presented with items from across the grade ranges of their state standards, ensuring that MAP assesses them at their current instructional level.

NWEA’s assessments are designed and developed based on specific guiding principles. These guiding principles help produce several outcomes:

  1. NWEA test items are aligned to standards: NWEA test items reflect the intent of the language within standards and/or performance objectives, and we align to every standard that is assessable using the currently available NWEA item types. Items are created to assess the concepts reflected in the specific language of the standards in addition to conceptual background knowledge – “building block” skills – assumed within the standards or performance objectives.
  2. NWEA tests reflect the structure of standards: When building tests, we group standards across grade levels to create a two-tier framework consisting of goals and sub-goals. These frameworks are used to create tests and reports. We retain goal or strand names represented within the standards and preserve wording from the standards as much as possible.  We also study how a state has organized its own summative assessment to further help us understand and match the MAP framework to the state’s intentions.
  3. NWEA tests are balanced:  All reported goals are sampled equally within a test event, which means a student will see approximately the same number of items per goal. Subgoals represent common groupings of concepts and skills as defined by the structure of the standards. The DesCartes report shows which learning statements are included in each subgoal for each RIT band. This helps NWEA provide useful data as to a student’s strengths and need areas.
  4. NWEA tests are cross-grade level: Our adaptive MAP test can present questions aligned to content standards through grade 12; however, the test is designed so that students will only see items appropriate to their own performance level. Having a cross-grade pool of items gives teachers information about where a student is instructionally rather than assessing their knowledge on only one grade level’s standards.

These guiding principles apply to our MAP tests for Reading, Language Usage, Science, and Mathematics that are aligned to each state’s standards. For each state, the MAP tests for Mathematics and Reading are offered in two grade band ranges: grades 2-5 and 6+. With the mathematics test, goals and subgoals may differ between the two assessments since the structure of the state standards often results in shifts in content focus between grade 5 and grade 6 (Guiding Principle #1).  The reading tests tend to use the same goals and subgoals in each assessment because the content focus is usually more consistent across these grades.

As an adaptive growth measure, the item pool for each test includes items aligned to appropriate off-grade level standards (Guiding Principle #4) that correspond with a student’s achievement level.  On the mathematics test, for example, if the standard for operations with fractions at grade 5 says that students will be able to use models to help them show multiplication and division of fractions, then, as an extension skill, items assessing computation of fractions without models would also be included on the 2-5 test.  Similarly, the reading tests use filters to ensure that only passages with appropriate reading and conceptual loads for a grade range appear in either the 2-5 or 6+ tests.

In addition, the current MAP test for science is changing to better align to the intent of changing state science standards (Guiding Principle #1). In the fall of 2013, the MAP test for science will be available as a single General Science test with goals for the physical sciences, the life sciences, and the Earth-space sciences. Science inquiry and the nature of science measures will be embedded into these content domains instead of a separate Concepts and Processes test (Guiding Principle #2), though the combined General Science/Concepts and Processes test will still be available. The 2013 MAP test for science will be for all students in grades 3 through 10 with items for students performing above and below this grade range (Guiding Principle #4). Over the next several years, many states will adopt new science standards and the MAP for science tests will evolve accordingly.

In the next blog post, we’ll discuss the item development process we use at NWEA to ensure that our items meet the highest standards for content integrity, sound construction, and appropriate levels of cognitive rigor.

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