To raise my hand or to nod along: 11 questions about MAP Growth answered

We’ve all been there: We’re at an important event, like back-to-school night, and we’re nodding along, self-consciously avoiding asking the questions that are burning inside us. We think, “It’s probably already been answered” or “I should have read this shiny pamphlet more closely” or “I don’t want to be the person who makes this meeting go on even longer.” We huddle with fellow meeting-goers afterward, asking our questions to each other, and everyone realizes that no one has any answers.

At NWEA, it’s our mission to help all kids learn. Our MAP® Growth™ assessment is part of a healthy ecosystem that allows schools to gain objective insight into how every child is growing and learning material, over the course of the school year and throughout their academic career. Part of fulfilling our mission is to ensure all the grownups involved—from teachers to principals to parents and other caregivers—understand what the assessment is all about. So let’s answer those MAP Growth questions you might have been too afraid to ask until now.

1. What is this MAP Growth test again?

MAP is an acronym and stands for “measures of academic progress.” MAP Growth is an interim assessment, that is, a test administered up to three times a year—in the fall, winter, and spring—that helps teachers know where students are in their learning. It is never graded; the data your child’s teacher gets by giving this test serves as a temperature check so they can better plan their lessons and ensure students are getting what they need to succeed.

MAP Growth […] is part of a healthy ecosystem that allows schools to gain objective insight into how every child is growing and learning material, over the course of the school year and throughout their academic career.

Unlike paper-and-pencil tests that ask all students the same questions, MAP Growth is a computer-adaptive test. That means every student gets a unique set of test questions based on their responses to previous questions. Similar to sophisticated video games, correct answers lead to more challenging follow-up questions. If a student answers incorrectly, the questions get easier. By the end of the test, most students will have answered about half the questions correctly.

MAP Growth will tell you and your child’s teacher where a student is starting from, regardless of the grade they’re in. For instance, if your third-grader is reading above their grade level, MAP Growth will be able to identify that. Or if they’re struggling with math at their grade level, MAP Growth will identify that, too. Both things are incredibly important for a teacher to know. And that’s also why the test is called MAP Growth, not MAP Accomplishment or MAP Finish Line; it’s designed to measure student achievement at a specific moment and show how kids learn and grow over time.

2. I want my kid to ace MAP Growth. Why can’t they?

Aside from the fact that it isn’t graded, there’s no way to ace MAP Growth because it’s designed so students get about half the questions wrong (or right, if you’re a glass-half-full kind of a person). This allows the test to take an accurate measure of what students know and what they don’t. To use a more technical term, MAP Growth identifies a kid’s zone of proximal development. That zone is the sweet spot where the best learning happens, where kids are challenged just enough to stay engaged but not so challenged that they give up. (You can read more about what we in the ed biz call ZPD in a post by Brooke Mabry).

3. What subjects does MAP Growth cover?

MAP Growth tests reading, language usage, mathematics, and science in grades 3–12, and it tests reading and mathematics in grades K–2. Not every school administers MAP Growth in every subject, so be sure to talk to your child’s teacher about exactly what subjects they’ll be tested in.

4. How much time does MAP Growth take away from actually learning?

Most schools give MAP Growth tests to students at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year. Most students take less than an hour to complete a MAP Growth test. However, MAP Growth is not timed, and students may take as much time as they need to complete it—so goodbye to fast test-taking anxiety! How long testing takes, exactly, also depends on how many subjects are covered. Talk to your child’s teacher about this, too.

5. What’s the testing environment like for my child?

As with any test, schools and teachers endeavor to create a stress-free, quiet day that usually begins with testing and then resumes the normal schedule. Many schools have students take the test in a computer lab, though they may stay in their classroom and use a tablet. Students are on personal or school devices and they may wear headphones. If your child has an IEP, their teacher will be prepared to honor whatever is required for assessment. You can learn more about our commitment to accommodations and accessibility on our website.

There will likely be a test proctor in the room and, depending on the school, this will either be a neutral person, like another teacher or a volunteer, or your child’s teacher.

6. Is it possible to “teach to the test”?

No. Because the test is adaptive, each student receives a different set of questions, and teachers do not have access to that information before or after the test. Teachers (and you!) can look at sample tests that give a feel for the types of question formats used on MAP Growth, but because the test changes for every student based on their experience, students can’t be told exactly what will be on a test to ensure they know the material.

[T]he data your child’s teacher gets by giving [MAP Growth] serves as a temperature check so they can better plan their lessons and ensure students are getting what they need to succeed.

That said, MAP Growth is aligned to the same educational standards as your child’s teacher’s curriculum, so all the questions students see will be appropriate for their grade. If the grade-level content is too challenging (or too easy) for your child, the test will adapt and ask questions that are more in line with where they are in their learning.

7. I don’t understand “RIT score.”

Yep. I know trying to wrap your head around a RIT score is tricky (it is for me, anyway).

Long story short, a RIT score is used to establish percentiles. That is, based on a group of, say, 100 kids, where does your child fall? The 80th percentile? The 20th? How they’re doing in comparison to their peers nationwide is important, and that’s what a percentile will tell you. Honestly, you’re better off paying more attention to your child’s percentiles because they’re more straightforward. But because I know it can be hard to just ignore something like a score, here’s a bit more info:

  • “RIT” stands for “Rasch UnIT” (pronounced like “Rosh Hashanah”) and is named after a mathematician named Georg Rasch.
  • RIT is a measurement scale developed to simplify the interpretation of test scores. It is incredibly mathematical, and if you want to read more, head to Wikipedia.
  • When students take MAP Growth, they receive a RIT score for each area they are tested in. This score represents a student’s achievement level at any given moment and helps measure their academic growth over time. Your student’s teacher will explain what score range is expected for your child and will let you know if they’re concerned about where your child falls.

8. So I should focus on my kid’s percentiles?

Does your pediatrician share World Health Organization growth percentile data with you at every well-child check-up, letting you know your child’s metrics compared to national averages? The MAP Growth percentiles work very similarly.

Percentiles are the numbers that will most help you understand where your child is in their learning. Our researchers look at the aggregated MAP Growth data of millions of students to find the average scores for students by grade and better understand how kids learn. This allows them to generate percentiles that can help you understand where your child fits in relation to how kids are doing nationwide.

The achievement percentile can show if a student is at, above, or below average in general. For example, if an achievement percentile is 46% in math, that means the student is slightly below average (average is 50%), and measures can be taken to meet a student’s needs by enrolling in enrichment activities and investigating supplementary resources, like tutoring. Meanwhile, the growth percentile compares the student’s latest two test scores, making sure that no matter where they were before, hopefully their trajectory is upward. The bigger the percentile, the larger the growth.

Keep in mind that a student can be below grade level (with a lower achievement percentile) and have a high growth percentile because they’ve made enormous progress (yay!). Conversely, a student could maintain a lower growth percentile because their achievement percentile has remained quite high over the last few tests (also yay!).

9. How is my student’s score used?

NWEA provides many different reports to help teachers and schools use MAP Growth information.

Teachers can see the progress of individual students and of their classes as a whole. This data is often used to help students set goals and understand what they need to learn to achieve them. When considering individualized paths forward for a specific student, MAP Growth data is just a starting point to larger conversations. There are lots of other ways a teacher will assess how your child is doing, and they’ll use information they gather from all their sources to plan their instruction for both their entire class and your child.

[A]ssessment is a vital part of teaching, and it is critical for schools and districts to ‘catch’ areas that need their priority attention.

Principals and administrators can use the scores to see the performance and progress of a grade level, school, or entire district. They look at overall patterns of student performance and growth to allocate resources, provide training, and essentially answer the question, “Now what?” Note that NWEA does not support schools taking punitive measures, or even evaluative measures, for teachers based on MAP Growth data. That is, schools shouldn’t use MAP Growth to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers’ teaching. We are proudly part of the conversation on why this is not only an incomplete look at a teacher’s performance but also profoundly ineffective in bettering instruction.

10. How can we be sure that my kid didn’t just zone out during testing?

Ah, so you’re the one who bubbled in silly shapes on standardized tests back when they were on paper…

NWEA is the first assessment company to create an engagement monitoring system, which we lovingly refer to as Slow Down Sloth. MAP Growth will notify a test proctor if there’s reason to worry that a student may not be engaged during a test. This gives the adult in the room a chance to check in with a student and decide if they need to skip testing that day because of illness or some other reason.

11. How can I help my child succeed on the test?

We’ve all heard the same advice before a big day: “Get a good night’s rest and eat a healthy breakfast.” But honestly? Don’t change anything on test day. Whatever starts off a good day in your household today is the same way to begin an assessment day. If your child loves a Pop-Tart, don’t suddenly stuff them full of omelet! Today is just another successful day at school, where an unscary test can give all our schools more information on how to be better.

Assessment is one ingredient in a complex recipe

When it comes to assessment, the only thing teachers strive for is teaching better. The only thing schools strive for is improvement. And the only thing you need to strive for is supporting your child. We are all on the same team, and we each play an important role.

Testing gives us all valuable feedback. The fact is, assessment is a vital part of teaching, and it is critical for schools and districts to “catch” areas that need their priority attention. Just as teachers value the information they get about students in myriad other ways, MAP Growth is part of the larger ecosystem of determining what’s going well and what needs adjustment. We’re all after the same thing: helping kids learn. To learn more, see our Family Toolkit.

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