How NOT to Prepare Your Students for MAP

How Not to Prepare Your Students for MAPMy elementary school teaching experience happened in two distinct settings. In one, a far-out suburb of Washington, D.C., most of my students lived in single-family homes and were native English speakers. Their parents were involved. They walked quietly through the hallways, and they asked me: “Should we put our names in the upper right or the upper left corner of our papers?” In that school, teachers could use a “let me pull out the September file folder” approach—in other words, because most students were on the same or a nearby page, my colleagues could teach whatever material was up next.

In the other setting, a close-in, almost-urban suburb of D.C., although I was a general education teacher, I was also a de facto ESL teacher since children in the neighborhood hailed from 90 different countries. In that school, I worked with eager, passionate colleagues under a supportive, trusting principal. Because our students could be at as many different reading levels as there were students, we had no choice but to differentiate instruction; we taught the children what they were ready to learn next.

The schools were in the same state, used the same standards, and were subject to the same requirements of No Child Left Behind. In spring, students in each school took the same test. In the more urban school, administrators sent teachers a simple message: teach well, and the test will take care of itself. In the more suburban school, days were devoted to test prep. Lesson plans were required to be handed in each month, and objectives were required to be posted on the board at all times.

In the end, students in both schools did fine on the tests. My (biased) take? The kids in the suburban school did fine in spite of its overzealous test-prep culture; they were the kids whose parents were reading to them in the womb, the kids who would do well no matter what. The kids in the more urban school did fine precisely because its culture ignored the high-stakes hubbub.

The MAP assessment is not inherently a high-stakes test, so it’s got that going for it.  Even better, its focus on growth makes possible the kind of differentiated teaching we did in my urban school setting.

To Prep or Not to Prep – Really, There’s No Question

There’s plenty of literature out there supporting the idea that cramming doesn’t work. Of course, you can find all sorts of how-to videos suggesting otherwise, but the research describes why last-minute study fails to ensure students have memorized material. It suggests distributed practice instead as a more reliable means of committing to memory information we’ll be asked to reproduce on the test. And that’s fine, and we agree with that. But spaced repetition is good for more than just laying down facts. It’s what we need in order to learn skills and habits of thinking as well.

Cramming especially doesn’t work for the MAP assessment. Our adaptive test samples based on a student’s responses from a test pool of literally thousands of items. No two test events are the same; how could one possibly study for it? Of course it is aligned to state standards, but it adjusts in difficulty level, so students may see content that is above or below grade level, depending on their performance.

Can you prepare your students to do well on the MAP assessment? Of course; it’s called good teaching. Should you sacrifice a week (or more) of instruction to give children pointers on the process of elimination? Please, please … pretty please, don’t. And if you’re still not convinced not to cram, here are a few more reasons:

  1. One big purpose of the MAP assessment is to measure growth. Growth happens over time, not overnight or over a week.
  2. The MAP assessment adapts to each student with each and every question—there’s no way to know what material will be on any given student’s test.
  3. Cramming steals time that would be better spent in regular instructional activities—and anyway, what content would you cram on?
  4. Cramming puts things into short-term, not long-term memory. (Plus, given how individualized MAP is, they’d probably be the wrong things anyway.)
  5. The MAP assessment adapts across grades, following the student’s lead. Your third-grade student could be answering questions about grade five math concepts—if her performance showed she were ready to.

We love the idea of getting students familiar with the adaptive nature of MAP—and we offer some suggestions for doing so here. The best way to prepare your students, though, is to trust that your good instruction—and enough sleep—will be all you and your students need.