Please Don’t Misunderstand Me: A Follow Up to Our First Best of Fusion Webinar

Going for Gold“Data Speaks.” That’s the name of the session I’ve been presenting at the Fusion conference for the past three years. It’s been well-attended with very positive feedback from participants. When I think about why this topic seems to resonate so well with teachers and administrators, I think that when you really break it down, get hands-on, and let the data speak to you, you can bridge the gap between the numbers and the reality sitting in the desks in front of you.

NWEA was kind enough to ask me — along with my colleague Alissa Thelen — to present this topic in webinar form for the very first of their three BEST OF FUSION webinars this year. It was called “Transform Instruction with Your Class Report,” and over 800 participants joined us the day of the webinar — and many more viewed the recorded version. If you were one of them, thank you for joining us! If you haven’t yet experienced it, you can watch the recorded version here.

If you’ve watched it, you might have had a moment that needed more clarity than we were able to give during the fast-paced recording. I can think of three key things that jump to mind, as they can become common misconceptions if we don’t clarify and address them right away. So let’s address them now.

  1. USING THE 2015 NWEA MEASURES OF ACADEMIC PROGRESS NORMATIVE DATA STUDENT STATUS NORMS. The first thing we want our teachers to know is that the results from NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessments — RIT scores — are scored on an equal interval scale. No matter if you teach 1st grade, 5th grade or 10th grade, everyone will use the most recent version of NWEA’s Normative Data (currently 2015) to get a general idea of how that student performed relative to what a typical student RIT score would be for that grade, subject, and season. We all understand that a 3rd grader can be performing like a 5th grader, and an 8th grader can also be performing like a 5th grader. The norms can be used for a very simple comparison between how an individual student performed relative to the rest of the nation. In our presentations, we stress that teachers shouldn’t take this LITERALLY. If Johnny is in 7th grade and his RIT score reflects that he’s performing at a level that reflects a typical 2nd grade RIT on this assessment, we wouldn’t take Johnny’s hand, walk him down the hall, and drop him off at Ms. Smith’s 2nd grade classroom for the rest of the year. NO. NO. NO. It’s simply information. A little nugget that helps you gauge what he’s performing LIKE on this particular assessment compared to other students who also took this assessment. It’s a simple first step to try to understand the data. The next step would be digging in to see that student’s percentile, since a percentile will give you more detail on how that student RANKS versus his peers in that same grade on that same test. [To access a printable version of the NWEA 2015 Norms click To access your students’ data & the Learning Continuum click here.]
  1. MEAN VS. MEDIAN. We lovingly refer to the mean RIT on the Class Report as the “mean girl in class.” You know, the one that deceives you and isn’t always truthful. When a data set is small, such as a classroom set of data, the mean is much more vulnerable to outliers, which can give teachers a false sense of their data. Focusing on the median, the exact middle number of your class, will inform you what RIT score has exactly half of the students scoring above it and half scoring below it. If you notice that the mean and median on your class report are very similar, no need to avoid the mean. It’s when they’re different that you have to be a little more cautious.

MAP: Reading 2-5 Common Core 2010 V2

The more data points there are, the less volatile the mean will become. So when looking at grade level or district level reports, the mean becomes more reliable. In the case of NWEA norms, since the data generates a normal curve, the MEAN and the MEDIAN are the exact same numbers. So, in the case of the NWEA norms sheet, the mean, median, and the 50th percentile are all represented by the single RIT SCORE on the status norms under the column titled “MEAN.”

Growth is not A-B-C

  1. AT GRADE LEVEL. This last one is simple, but tends to be misinterpreted the most, which makes it more complex. Let me first note that the MAP assessment is aligned to the Common Core State Standards. One great newer features is that you can even switch the view in the Learning Continuum now to view by Common Core standard instead of topic. Didn’t know that? Go check it out! Drop down the blue EDIT DISPLAY OPTIONS link and experiment with the “Grouping Options” as well as the “Standards Filters”.

But I digress. Even though it’s aligned, it is still a grade-independent test. Students aren’t given just questions on the Common Core standards taught at their grade level, which is why it’s referred to as an adaptive test. So when flexible groups are created using the Class Report in the webinar, we start by finding the “AT GRADE LEVEL” group. But, “AT GRADE LEVEL” means where a typical student would perform at that grade level according to the NWEA norms. What it DOESN’T MEAN is that that student is at grade level when it comes to curriculum and content in the classroom. It doesn’t mean they’re prepared or have mastered all the academic material needed to be successful in their grade level.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, I’m hoping you enjoyed the webinar and the content presented. It’s truly meant to provide the first steps in transforming classroom instruction. If you want to get a LIVE experience with this content and much, much more, plan to attend Fusion 2017 in Indianapolis, and make sure to register for the next BEST OF WEBINAR highlighting another great presenter from a past Fusion Conference!


Build math confidence

Lots of kids dread math. You can help them love it. Get advice on how from our Teach. Learn. Grow. math experts in our latest ebook.


Blog post

For policymakers

There’s a lot policymakers can do to support schools during COVID-19. We talked with experts Evan Stone and LaTanya Pattillo about what to focus on during SY21–22.

Read the post


The ABCs of reading

Effective literacy instruction must rely on the science of reading and best practices in balanced literacy.

Learn more


Sign up for our newsletter and get recent blog posts—and more—delivered right to your inbox.