You’ve tested with MAP® Growth™ (or will soon). Now what?
The story of the last two years in education has been one of rising up to meet big, unfamiliar challenges. And while it’s easy to dwell on the difficult parts of this story, there’s a positive aspect to it, too. All the challenges, setbacks, and disruptions we’ve seen have given us ample opportunities to rethink our teaching and, well, everything. That includes how we use assessment data. That’s why I sat down with Robin Whitacre, manager of the Professional Learning Design team at NWEA, to learn more about how to put data to good use as you dig into the new school year. Her answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Many teachers want to explore their students’ MAP Growth data as they begin planning for instruction. What’s the best way for them to get started?
When I talk to teachers using data to inform their instruction, my first suggestion is to make a list of the measures they will consider and make sure they have the right balance of evidence for the task at hand. As my colleague Steve Underwood said, “A coherent approach to assessment practices can streamline decision-making and improve learning.” As an interim assessment, MAP Growth plays a valuable role in planning for teaching and learning. After designing their term and/or unit instructional plans, teachers should consider MAP Growth as one of multiple data sources that will help them think about how to be more responsive to learner needs. The class-level data in MAP Growth, which reveals patterns of relative strength and need, is a great place to start. Class-level reports can also help teachers contextualize achievement in terms of norms, proficiency projections, and the academic diversity of their students.
There is great power in knowing your purpose and using the right sources of data to match that purpose.
What advice can you give to teachers who need a better understanding of what the RIT score represents to assist their planning efforts?
Within each subject, RIT scores are translated into instructional area ranges, which are typically familiar to most teachers and can help them narrow in on the areas that they are planning for. When teachers look at an instructional area across their entire class, they get a feel for the academic diversity of their class in that area, which helps them begin to think about how varied their students’ needs may be. And for teachers who need more information about what a RIT score represents, the learning continuum is a great resource they can use as a content explorer to add to their understanding of the RIT score in general, as well as to get a better sense of which content is assessed by MAP Growth.
For day-to-day, minute-to-minute information about what kids know and what they’re ready for next, teachers should combine MAP Growth with formative assessment practice.
Once teachers have a general sense of what the RIT represents, they can use that information along with standards and curriculum documents as an indicator of where to focus their formative assessment efforts. This is key to determining the zone of proximal development (ZPD)—that sweet spot of productive struggle for each student as they work toward their desired outcomes. Using formative practice to find their students’ ZPD specific to planned learning helps teachers know what their learners already know, what’s likely still a bit out of reach for them, and what they can conquer with some help.
If MAP Growth is best used at the term and/or unit level, what data sources should teachers use for day-to-day planning?
An interim assessment is a great start, but it’s given only three times a year. For day-to-day, minute-to-minute information about what kids know and what they’re ready for next, teachers should combine MAP Growth with formative assessment practice. When it comes to planning at the lesson level within a unit, that’s the time for teachers and learners to rely on strong formative assessment practices, with a goal of defining each student’s individual opportunity areas (ZPD). When used together, MAP Growth data and high-quality formative assessment do an excellent job of identifying areas that students can focus on to maximize growth.
It sounds like the key to using MAP Growth or any data effectively is really about putting in the time and energy to get to know your learners. Is that right?
Yes, and there’s a secret sauce to add on top. It’s about not only getting to know them well, but also using that information to empower them as partners throughout the teaching and learning process. Student empowerment and ownership of learning are at the heart of every single thing that we do. In order for learners to have true agency, they need to better understand themselves as well—and that includes having access to the data that speaks to their own achievement and growth. The past few years have shed a light on the importance of students co-owning the teaching and learning process. This occurs when we as teachers deliberately shift from being managers to being empowerers—what we call assessment empowerment.
I’m reminded of something Jacob Bruno said in a recent essay: “Building student agency will be a lifelong endeavor for all of us, and the results are crucial and worthwhile. When we empower students to drive their own learning—when we show them the destinations, let them chart their own courses, and help them reroute on the way—they build their sense of self-efficacy. They develop not only the skills and knowledge required, but also the confidence from knowing they found success themselves.”
What’s the risk if educators look only at MAP Growth data?
In a word, inequity. I have a brief story that helps to illustrate why.
I had been working for more than a year with a school in New Mexico when I discovered something kind of funny going on. At the time, they were using MAP Growth data as their main source for planning daily instruction. I even saw several classroom teachers creating checklists from the learning continuum statements to document what they had taught, as if that were the only thing that mattered. It was a school with very low proficiency and very low growth. Their growth was declining in reading, so they followed the directive of their leaders and focused exclusively on building low-level reading skills and moving fast at the expense of quality.
As a result, they implemented some well-intentioned but misguided initiatives. For example, they stopped using grade-appropriate literature circle books and grade-appropriate text, relying instead on an intervention program as their sole instructional resource for all kids at all grade levels. This program was very focused on skills in isolation with low-level text. In an effort to move quickly through the texts, the teachers took out all the activities that included reflection, collaborative learning, critical thinking, and writing—in other words, many of the experiences that provide access to grade-level standards and bring about the productive struggle kids need in order to solidify learning.
The students and the teachers became unempowered. For teachers, it was all about compliance. For kids, reading speed became the primary measure of success. It didn’t matter that they didn’t understand what they were reading. The only productive struggle taking place—for teachers and students alike—was the struggle to stay engaged.
Tests don’t change student’s lives, but teachers can.
Fortunately, after looking at their MAP Growth data and comparing it to their state test scores, we had a get-together and talked a lot about what was going on. We realized that critical thinking was the highest-weighted area on the New Mexico state test, even as the school’s scores in critical thinking were steadily declining. So teachers took the data to leadership, got permission to redesign their reading program, and began to focus more on how they could help kids deeply engage with grade-level content. First, they used grade-level expectations to plan up-front for core instruction to ensure they were including critical thinking and rigor. Using MAP Growth data, they looked at class trends in strengths and areas of need to adjust the timing of their upcoming units, to ensure that they could build critical thinking skills throughout the learning with all kids, even those who needed a bit more scaffolding. They also embarked on a several-year journey to gain expertise in formative assessment to better pinpoint students’ strengths and needs and adjust instruction in the moment. After the first year of their redesigned program, they had the highest rate of growth of all 15 schools in the district area where I worked.
The moral of this story is that tests don’t change student’s lives, but teachers can. Having high-quality data sources to choose from goes a long way, but knowing what to do with those choices gives teachers the agency they need to make a real difference. I encourage you to take time to invest in yourself as an educator and to invest in your colleagues as well. Look for professional learning opportunities that support you in aligning curriculum, instruction, and assessment in ways that will empower both you and your learners.