Living the Mission: The 7th grade letter writing project

Living the Mission: The 7th grade letter writing project The opportunity to work as an Account Manager for NWEA is a great experience. With almost 30 years of experience as an educator, it’s rewarding to know that the mission of “partnering to help all kids learn” is a living, breathing culture here. Recently I had the opportunity to put that mission into practice at a very grass-roots level. I had the opportunity to once again be in front of children with the purpose of bringing understanding and value to the MAP assessment that is a part of their learning.

In early May, I received an email that made my heart stop for just a second. This email was from the NWEA Public Relations department letting me know that two students from one of my districts in suburban Chicago had written letters to NWEA CEO Matt Chapman. My first thought was, “Uh-oh!” Then I had chance to read the letters and investigate just a bit — and realized that the letters were part of student learning.

These students were tasked with thinking about challenges in their lives that affect them. Two students chose to take on the challenges they saw in NWEA’s MAP test. They proceeded to very respectfully write letters to our CEO that outlined such concerns as long and boring reading passages, their perception of misalignment of content and the purpose of taking the assessment. They also proposed solutions. One was to offer a student interest survey prior to starting the test, and using the results of that survey to determine reading content for students throughout the assessment.  Pretty ingenious suggestion!

Our CEO took these challenges very seriously and began immediately drafting a response to the students. This is where I came into the picture! Because I work with the administration of this district on a regular basis, I helped bring some context to the situation for everyone. After some discussion, we decided that offering an on-site visit with these students and their teacher might be a great chance to clarify information and collaborate with partners.

I was able to set up a day in early June to meet not only the students who wrote the letter, but the entire 7th grade. I was super excited to have a chance to be with kids to engage and interact. The first forty-five minutes or so was set up for a presentation/conversation to address their challenges from the letters, general information about the MAP test, and specific questions from the group. Virtually every student participated in some way, and they left with a new understanding of both the assessment and NWEA as an organization. (You can read more about our visit in the Chicago Tribune.)

After the conversation, several student leaders from the 7th grade stayed, and their teacher and I convened a smaller focus group with some pretty specific questions and topics around how they as a group can affect the culture of MAP testing in the school moving forward. They brainstormed ideas, and their teacher accepted suggestions. We left that day with a plan to revisit these ideas and get a plan of action in place this fall. As this fall approaches, I find myself looking forward to this experience. This will be a great way to foster a widespread, positive culture around MAP for this school. Later this fall, I’ll report back — so check back here to see what that plan will look like and how it will help all kids learn.

This has been such a great learning experience for me! I now know that despite my work with this district’s administration, there is much work to still be done. It has shifted our focus from building capacity in staff to directly affecting children. I am so thankful to work for an organization like NWEA that makes doing the right thing for kids a priority, and I look forward to continuing our mission in this district.  Stay tuned!