North East Independent School District (NEISD) serves 64,000 students in San Antonio, Texas. This large, diverse district is home to 69 campuses, including 46 elementary schools. In 2019–2020, NEISD implemented MAP® Growth™ and tested more than 30,000 students, including their entire K–5 population and a handful of students in middle and high school.
Like districts across the country, NEISD shut down in spring 2020, prior to state summative tests and the final MAP Growth assessment of the year. NEISD buildings remain closed at the beginning of the 2020–2021 school year, but teaching and learning continue online—including remote testing with MAP Growth and MAP® Reading Fluency™.
To gather insight into the remote testing process, I interviewed Tiffany Arce, assistant director for digital learning, MAP professional learning, and support, and Robyn Pryor, an instructional interventionist at Castle Hills Elementary, a year-round campus where the fall testing window is largely complete. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Why did NEISD decide to remote test this fall?
Tiffany: So it was a very careful conversation. What’s important to us here in NEISD is that we don’t do anything that’s not what’s best for students. And any tool, any resource, any requirements that we’re going to push out, we really want to make sure that the end goal is that it’s setting the student up for success.
[Getting] ahead of the technology—troubleshooting—is the number one thing that’s going to allow for a successful testing situation.
Because we did not have any end-of-year assessments at all (state summative or MAP assessments) we had very little information about where our students are starting this year. We decided that it would be valuable information to gather on our students.
What has testing been like so far? What feedback have you received from staff and the school community?
Tiffany: I would say it’s gone well. Our teachers have been phenomenal. Our parents have been phenomenal. I was actually on a Zoom this morning with a teacher who was doing remote testing. And I would say that of the 10 students that she had logged in, about half of them had a parent there with them supporting the login process and everything.
Robyn: We started with MAP Reading Fluency. As far as proctoring goes, it’s completely different from how you proctor MAP Growth. So when I was watching it, it was a breeze.
MAP Growth was a little harder only because of the device readiness. We gave the parents all the materials, all the videos, because your website has everything. If anything goes wrong, there’s a video for that. And there were some parents who still said, “Where do we go again?” And so I had to start all over sometimes. That was a little rocky, but once we got to fifth grade and we had finished troubleshooting through all the lower grades, it was a breeze. We only had like three people who needed help.
With remote testing, parents and families play a stronger role in testing than they usually do. How do you help everyone—students and families—have a successful testing experience?
Robyn: What we had to do as a campus is really prepare the parents to make sure that the devices were ready and we had to remind them that if they help a kid take the test, it’s just going to make the test harder. With the first few students, we learned that the hard way. Tiffany emailed me and joked, “Oh, your first-graders came out like geniuses.” So we started asking families to sign an oath we created that said that they wouldn’t help the student.
[C]ommunicate with parents. Provide that background knowledge of the test and how it’s going to […] be beneficial.
Tiffany: That’s when we responded with, “Okay, we’ve got to get a better system in place for helping our families understand how important the assessment process is to the instruction.” And so that’s when we created a video.
Robyn: At one point, I saw a grandpa hovering and said, “Is everything okay?” So we also decided to make sure that students stayed on Zoom while taking the assessment. Once we did that, our data started becoming more realistic. We wouldn’t give students a password until they signed into the Zoom call and we saw their face. And then we would give it to them and make them stay on.
What advice would you give to educators in other districts preparing for remote testing?
Robyn: One piece of advice I would give to other teachers is really communicate with parents. Help make sure there’s a secluded room for a child to take the test. The family should give them everything they need and then leave the room. Really strong communication is key when it comes to these assessments and, really, the parents are gaining the understanding of why their kids are taking the assessment. Provide that background knowledge of the test and how it’s going to help us, how it is really going to be beneficial to parents and to teachers.
And troubleshoot beforehand. Don’t wait until the last minute to make sure that your device is ready.
Tiffany: Take it slow. Keep it simple with a small groups of kids, simple naming conventions for your test session. There’s no reason to feel like we have to rush this process. If you can find a way to be flexible with the number of students you’re logging in at one time, do so. (We’ve been trying to come up with some out-of-the-box ways to think about creating a schedule where five kids come in, you get them logged in, and then they go off to test in a breakout room while you bring in another five kids.)
Take it slow. Keep it simple.
But getting ahead of the technology—troubleshooting—is the number one thing that’s going to allow for a successful testing situation. Like when NWEA says, “We recommend the system check,” do it because really that’s a great recommendation.
It’s not the testing process that’s hard. It’s really not. And that’s what teachers are finding. It’s just those other barriers, those obstacles we have to overcome. I think it’s fair to say that it’s not just with testing; it’s with distance learning, in general.
Visit our remote testing support site for everything you need to test this fall.