Hit the ground running this fall with assessment

With the abrupt move to online learning this spring and a school year full of uncertainties ahead, there’s a lot of concern about learning loss and how to keep students on track. Shelley Ghannam, an NWEA account manager in Northern California, believes that administering MAP® Growth™ early this fall is one of the best things schools can do to help students achieve success this year.

Shelley has worked in education for almost 20 years, most recently overseeing assessment in the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District, where she saw firsthand the value that MAP Growth brings to teachers and students. I recently sat down with Shelley (in a video chat, of course) to talk about the essential role assessment will play this year in measuring students’ learning progress and helping teachers plan their instruction accordingly. Her answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Why is it important to test early this year?

It’s critical that we administer assessments as soon as students are back in school so that teachers can find out right away how much learning loss students experienced over the past five months. We know there’s always typical summer learning loss, but this year we’ll be seeing more than that. With the extended school closures and varied learning experiences of students while at home, we’ll need to determine what specific instructional units need to be prioritized. Teachers will need reliable data to make these informed decisions.

MAP Growth is such a great tool for showing teachers exactly where students are in their learning.

There’s been a lot of conversation about learning loss since the spring, but I think it’s important to stay focused on the work ahead of us and what instructional support students will need in order to pick up where they left off and start learning—hopefully at an accelerated pace.

We expect to see a lot of variability this fall in students’ learning progress and needs. How will assessment help guide instruction for all students?

Yes, we are anticipating larger learning gaps than we usually see. However, with the use of MAP Growth data, school and instructional leaders will be able to plan school-wide strategies to determine what classroom and teacher supports are needed based on this data.

Teachers can leverage the data to identify where their students are on the learning continuum, zeroing in on the essential things that need to be taught and learned. Using the multi-tier system of supports (MTSS) framework, we will likely see more students in Tier 2 who will benefit from additional classroom supports and small-group interventions. For students whose assessment results show larger learning losses, teachers can develop specialized plans to help close those gaps.

To give teachers more instructional options, NWEA partners with online providers such as Khan Academy, Newsela, and Edgenuity, which use RIT scores to create customized academic paths for students based on what they’re ready to learn, including reading recommendations. The sooner that schools administer MAP Growth, the sooner they can put these great resources in front of students.

Assuming that many kids will be taking MAP Growth from home, what will the logistics of assessment look like? What kinds of challenges will schools face in administering the test successfully?

We’re ready for remote testing. Our partners can learn more by watching our recent webinar on demand and visiting our remote testing site.

You want to make sure that parents know this isn’t a high-stakes test, but rather an assessment to help teachers give their kids the best instruction possible.

It’s true that this is unknown territory for all of us. The key is to plan and be prepared for the test administration. Even though kids will be taking the test electronically in the same manner that they would in the classroom, they’ll be at home, which does create some uncertainty. But I have a lot of confidence in kids—I think we can all agree that they are the experts when it comes to technology and their devices. Teachers, too, are a lot more comfortable now using tools like Google Classroom and Zoom. I think once we get through the first round of testing via these kinds of platforms, it’ll be something that we all get very comfortable with.

Another challenge to consider is that each student will have a different testing environment, so good communication with parents will be very important. You want to make sure that parents know this isn’t a high-stakes test, but rather an assessment to help teachers give their kids the best instruction possible. Parents can help by giving students a quiet space to take the assessment and letting them complete it on their own. To get these messages across, schools can communicate directly with parents via email or notices sent to their homes.

What steps can schools take to help students have a good experience with MAP Growth and a successful year?

In addition to keeping a communication channel open with parents, there are a number of things schools can do to help students get off to a good start:

  • Build strong teacher/student relationships. This has been an emotional time for kids. Academics are extremely important, but the social/emotional aspect of kids’ lives is really important, If we want kids to do well in school, whether it’s in person or online, we have to make sure that teachers are there to support them.
  • Administer a practice. Many kids have anxiety around tests. When students are back in the groove of the school year and have gotten to know their teachers, they should have the opportunity to take a practice test so they can see what the items look like. I recommend that teachers do a practice run-through with students the day before testing to resolve any technical challenges and get comfortable with the remote testing process. As long as teachers have the right resources and directions to navigate the interface and deal with any issues that come up, the process can be quite smooth.
  • Set expectations around technology. Make sure students have good internet access and that their devices are updated and ready to This is outside schools’ control, of course, but schools can help parents by letting them know what’s expected.
  • Help teachers see the value of assessment. I know from my experience in education that assessment and testing is something that people aren’t super excited about. But I believe that what you assess, you MAP Growth is such a great tool for showing teachers exactly where students are in their learning. Not having that data would be like wearing blinders and trying to move forward without knowing where your kids are. When you have the data, it’s like taking the blinders off and being able to clearly see everything around you.

Despite all the challenges facing schools and students right now, do you see any silver linings in our current situation?

Yes, I think there are many positives that have come out of this difficult situation. We have seen communities come together to support each other, and districts have been able to purchase more devices to support remote learning. Educators have expanded their knowledge and use of technology, which will serve them well in the months and years ahead. We’re also seeing new opportunities to try different pedagogical approaches and more opportunities to put kids on individualized learning paths.

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