Swapping my teacher hat for my parent hat: What it was like to see my child’s MAP Growth score for the first time

I’ve been a lover of MAP® Growth™ ever since my district first started using it about 10 years ago. Here was a test that finally measured my students’ progress over time rather than focusing solely on specific standards for a certain grade.

As many of you already know, standards-based assessments, though they mean well, focus on whether or not kids know certain concepts on a certain day. They don’t show how a child grows over the course of a school year, and they aren’t administered often enough to provide data in time to modify instruction. As a teacher, receiving information about my class in the spring does not help me improve my practice, nor does it help me support my students that school year.

Then, along came MAP Growth with all its glory, and I was beyond thrilled. It has changed so much about how I approach teaching, and I believe it’s made me better at my work. Now I’ve gotten to see MAP Growth from the viewpoint of a parent. My son, Frankie, is in second grade and took MAP Growth for the first time this school year.

How MAP Growth changed my classroom

When my district started using MAP Growth, I was teaching fifth grade. That first year, I didn’t have any MAP Growth data to look back on as I worked to understand my students, but just the information I gained from that first fall test was powerful. Then, by June, I had data points on how all my fifth-graders were doing from the beginning, middle, and end of the year. I could see clear proof of growth, and that was incredibly exciting.

I was beyond thrilled for my son to take MAP Growth because I knew it would give me some really interesting insights into how he was learning.

Things got really interesting once the district started assessing students beginning in second grade. By the time those kids reached my fifth-grade classroom, I had three years’ worth of longitudinal data to analyze and inform my teaching. I was able to notice if a child had a particular pattern to their learning. Perhaps they showed a great deal of growth in the third quarter each year, then plateaued. Or maybe they suffered from the summer slump, and I needed to provide the family with the appropriate resources to help the child maintain the progress made over the school year. Needless to say, MAP Growth is my friend.

Becoming a MAP Growth mom

I am both a teacher and a parent at my school. It is a fine art balancing both of those roles in the same building, but I am thankful for the opportunity each day. This year, I was beyond thrilled for my son to take MAP Growth because I knew it would give me some really interesting insights into how he was learning. I was genuinely excited to receive this unbiased, quantitative data about my son’s skills as a learner. I was eager for conversations with his teacher based on data.

Just like the other kids at my elementary school, my son tested in the fall and winter. A third assessment is planned for spring.

Fall was my very first chance to learn more about the details of him as a reader and a mathematician. Why was I so excited? Well, because I specifically wanted to know about his ability to comprehend text. I had my own opinions as a professional and also as a parent, but cold, hard data can sometimes be more valid than just this mommy’s opinions.

MAP Growth assesses reading skills with a read aloud for our second-graders, which means we don’t narrow in on a student’s ability to decode and focus; instead, we look at their ability to comprehend.

I was genuinely excited to receive this unbiased, quantitative data about my son’s skills as a learner.

My son has learned to decode, and now read, through excellent teaching and hard work. Decoding and comprehending, although related, are not the same, and his MAP Growth results provided me specific information about my son’s cognitive ability to understand what is happening in a text: identifying the main idea, making predictions and inferences, and using text features to enhance a nonfiction text. I can only guess at how he’s doing since I’m not in the classroom with him every day, and his MAP Growth score definitely lets me see exactly where he is.

The data I see as a mom

MAP Growth provides a breakdown of a student’s scores for both reading and math. Each student gets an overall score, called a RIT score, that is measured against students of the same grade both at the district and national level. That’s a useful data point on its own, but the overall score is also broken down into categories.

There are four categories in language arts:

  • Reading (fiction and nonfiction)
  • Writing
  • Vocabulary
  • Phonological awareness, print concepts, and phonetic principles

There are five categories in math:

  • Patterns, function, and algebra
  • Number and number sense
  • Computation and estimation
  • Probability and statistics
  • Measurement and geometry

As a teacher, I always look for areas of strength and areas for improvement. As a parent, I did the same thing. My son’s MAP Growth data gave me ideas on what kinds of books to suggest for him or what math skills we could focus on at home when cooking, for example.

Getting that second data point

When January rolled around, I was once again excited for my son to take MAP Growth. We already had that benchmark data from the fall. Now his dad and I would be able to see how much he’d grown in just a few short months.

I could not wait to see if his results showed progress and the specifics of that progress. His teacher and I helped my son understand that the test was specific to him and that he should try his best. As I tell my students when they take MAP Growth in January, they are trying to do better than their “September Self.” That’s the only person they need to worry about “beating.” I gave my son a similar speech. He got curious about seeing his improvement, too.

I will not publicly share my son’s scores. Those are meant for his teachers and our family. However, I will share how his teacher and I discussed them, and how my son and I talked about them at home.

As a teacher and a parent, I know that when students’ scores come in, there is a delicate art of helping them understand what their score means. Some students may not show growth. It is important to talk about that with them and consider, together, how they can improve in the future. For students who do show progress, it is important to celebrate, of course, but also to reflect on what specific steps they took so they can continue to use those strategies in the future.

As a teacher, I always look for areas of strength and areas for improvement. As a parent, I did the same thing.

For all students, reviewing MAP Growth scores provides a goal setting opportunity. Ask students, “What do you want to work toward?” “Is there a score you hope to achieve next time?” “What specific steps will you take toward reaching your goals?” These types of reflective conversations were just another reason I was excited for my son to take MAP Growth. Our conversations about what he’s working toward at school are so much richer now that data has become a part of seeing the full picture of where he is academically. For more ideas on how to help students with goal setting, see the blog post “Read the latest in student goal setting guidance” and webinar Goals mean growth: Using student goal setting to jumpstart student motivation and success.

Looking ahead

Before I know it, my son will be taking MAP Growth again in the spring and I will have a year’s worth of data to look at through my mom lens. As my husband tells me, I often have a hard time shifting gears between parent and teacher. This may be true (ok, it is definitely true), but in most instances, I think it serves our family well.

I am thankful that I understand my son’s assessment data so well as a parent. As a teacher, I have used this knowledge—this feeling I have as a mom learning about my son’s skills as a learner—to guide me as I talk to families about their own child. I am always thirsty for any information about my son in school. Did he say something funny? Was he kind? Do his teachers like him? Is he making good choices? Is he learning? Now I know, more than ever, the power of MAP Growth—and the huge impact effective conversations between teachers and families about assessment data can have. And now I have the clearest evidence possible that he really is learning.


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