Holding Hands with the Extraordinary: A Teacher’s Reflection on Working with NWEA Research

Holding Hands with the Extraordinary: A Teacher’s Reflection on Working with NWEA Research My desire to notice relationships first occurred, I was told, when I was just shy of three years old. I was a chatty little girl and loved to talk to my father, especially when we would go hiking together. As it happened, my father and I were on one of our many hiking excursions, just the two of us holding hands, when we came upon a railroad crossing at the same time an airplane passed above us. I turned to my father and said, “Daddy, trains travel on tracks, cars travel on roads, and airplanes travel in the sky.” After which he turned to me and said, “Show me what you mean.” So I did. It was my father’s way of guiding my thinking to prove what I observed. Then, he looked at me thoughtfully and asked, “What else do you see?”

My father never wanted me to settle. Rather, he wanted me to press on, to discover more. At an early age, I was hard-wired in my desire to discover significant connections, try to prove their worth, then see what “else” lay beneath them. That passion to uncover and prove relationships, to unify my thinking, has been driving me ever since. It has led me to the doorstep of NWEA as a summer research intern, after nearly thirty years of teaching across three states: Oregon, Texas, and Michigan.

When I reflect on those hikes with my father—how he guided my thinking to look for and evaluate relationships around me—I see a real-life metaphor that describes my experience with NWEA this summer. The NWEA team’s willingness to embrace a challenge, to discover new ways to construct meaning with MAP Growth, then thoughtfully consider, “what else might help teachers?”, is fundamental to what they do. Knowing there is always something “else” to discover, NWEA does not settle, which makes their instrument of student growth the most remarkable test I have ever used in my classroom.

I knew as a teacher that the MAP Growth test was an extraordinary tool and provided a goldmine of information. It was a unique assessment because it gave me a meaningful snapshot of a student’s achievement three times a year; in addition, it provided a growth trajectory based on a student’s current level of achievement. This type of intermittent assessment had never been available to me before. The MAP Growth test and its Learning Continuum helped me identify areas of need and strengths in my students. I gleaned information which informed me where I needed to intervene meaningfully to benefit my students. It assisted me in making changes that altered the course of many of my student’s achievement outcomes from downward to upward.

What I like most about the MAP Growth assessment is how it places each student’s performance of growth on a level playing field, whether a student is high achieving or otherwise.  It is an instrument which allowed me to compare my students’ achievement from Fall to Winter to Spring. I was provided a snapshot to monitor a student’s progress and make relevant changes to my pedagogy within the school year. Because my students performed at different levels, the MAP Learning Continuum made it a snap to differentiate my instruction to meet each student’s needs. And let’s not forget our parents. MAP Growth helped me enhance my school-to-home parent partnership. It provided me an easy and effective way to communicate to my parents the growth and learning needs of their children. Parents were eager to know this and offer support at home.

Each day of my internship, I inquire, explore, and discover more with this amazing organization, as I did with my father. I stand back and inhale the robust scientific standards and positive energy it generates. It inspires me to continue down that path of scientific thinking in hope I can provide something meaningful to an organization that has meant so much to me as a teacher. As Mark Sadoskia and Allan Paivioa poignantly said:

“The oldest theories in any branch of science that are based on systematic, controlled observations date back to the 15th and 16th centuries (e.g., physics). Those sciences have gained considerable maturity and unification although new revelations continue and they remain dynamic. In contrast, the social sciences are much more immature.”

NWEA is bringing the art and science of education and its theories, heuristics, and anecdotes into a new generation of maturity.

a Sadoski, Mark, and Allan Paivio. “Toward a unified theory of reading.” Scientific Studies of Reading 11.4 (2007): 337-356.


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