3 myths about MAP Reading Fluency in Spanish

Are there Spanish-speaking students in your school or district? If so, they might benefit from taking MAP® Reading Fluency™ in Spanish until they’ve gained the skills and confidence to be tested in English.

I asked some of our partner schools and districts for their burning questions about the assessment, so I am here to unravel the mysteries, debunk the myths, and share knowledge. Let’s jump into the world of MAP Reading Fluency in Spanish together.

Myth 1: MAP Reading Fluency in Spanish is easier than the English test

When I was a high school Spanish teacher and, later, a university Spanish professor, it was common for my students to say they chose Spanish to complete their language requirement because it is easier than other languages. This idea has been around a long time, mostly because—for English speakers—the idea that Spanish pronunciation is phonetic makes learning Spanish seemingly straightforward. The consistency in the grammar and fewer irregularities relative to English in its verb system may also contribute to this perception.

Such beliefs can be misleading and oversimplify the complexity of language learning. Whether either language is easier or harder than the other one really depends on what aspect you are talking about. Both Spanish and English present unique challenges, and individual experiences alongside linguistic backgrounds are key factors in shaping proficiency.

MAP Reading Fluency in Spanish is not merely a translated version of the English test.

While it is not at all surprising that some would believe that MAP Reading Fluency in Spanish is easier than its English counterpart, the opposite may be true, simply because reading Spanish can take longer. Last year, some of our partner schools and districts proved this point when they alerted us to a pattern in their MAP Reading Fluency data: Some students taking the assessment in Spanish were not being shown connected texts as often as their peers taking the test in English. They noticed this pattern when they triangulated data from MAP Reading Fluency and formative assessments and saw that things just weren’t adding up. After investigating, we discovered the culprit: It takes people longer to read words with more syllables. Spanish words tend to have more syllables than words in English. Take, for example, the following sentence in English: We play chess. It has only three syllables. In Spanish, we need at least seven syllables to say the same thing: Jugamos al ajedrez.

While MAP Reading Fluency in Spanish is not merely a translated version of the English test, it wasn’t taking into account the fact that words and, as a result, sentences in Spanish tend to have more syllables and take longer to read. So, we made some adjustments without compromising the accuracy of the test to account for the greater syllabic load inherent in Spanish and to adjust for the time necessary to read sentences in Spanish aloud. Educators are now seeing MAP Reading Fluency data that measures their students more accurately.

Myth 2: Spanish-speaking students do not score well enough on MAP Reading Fluency in Spanish to do well on the test in English

We know that in the United States, the focus of many language arts programs is on learning English and doing well in English. This makes sense, but sometimes the objectives of a program are not necessarily English-focused. Consider, for example, schools where bilingualism and biliteracy (and in some cases multilingualism and multiliteracy!) are the goals. Assessment data can help inform instructional decisions and give educators a more holistic portrait of their students in these settings, just as it does in monolingual learning environments. Combined with all the information educators gather daily through classroom work, curriculum-based measures, and even informal interactions, a bigger picture emerges that can reveal areas of growth and opportunities for learning in more than one language.

In some cases, schools might have a goal of advancing learning in both languages, in which case testing in one language is not meant to provide a gateway to testing in the other but, instead, to offer a window into where to focus instruction for both. In those cases, a lower score on MAP Reading Fluency in Spanish is not necessarily proof that a student will get a similar score when they take the test in English.

More important, however, is the reality that a challenge in one language does not always equate to a barrier in another. There is a common assumption that a less-than-ideal performance on a test in Spanish directly correlates with a similar outcome on the corresponding test in English. But the truth is that language proficiency is multifaceted and nuanced, and skills in one language do not always perfectly mirror those in another. The same is true of reading development. Factors like linguistic features, such as orthography, which I discussed earlier, and vocabulary, syntax, and cultural context differ between Spanish and English, and these are all factors that influence performance on assessments. Students might excel in one language and encounter challenges in the other, but that does not mean they cannot read, nor does it mean they cannot access the content on an assessment and should be prohibited from taking it.

Myth 3: Testing in English is aligned with the dominant language of instruction and ensures all students are evaluated based on the same linguistic criteria

Let’s step back from MAP Reading Fluency for a moment and think about an analogous situation: If you have a US driver’s license, you had to pass both a written and a practical test to be authorized to drive a car on public roads. Would you be able to pass the written portion of the test if you needed to, to gain permission to drive abroad, if it were in a language other than your home language? You clearly have the knowledge of driving. But would a written driving test in, say, German or Finnish, be a fair and accurate measure of your knowledge? I think it is safe to assume that your results would be a more accurate reflection of what you know if the test were administered in your home language.

MAP Reading Fluency is not a test of language proficiency in either Spanish or English; it is an assessment of reading development and the foundational skills required for reading.

If the objective of MAP Reading Fluency is to measure English (or Spanish) language proficiency, then yes, it would be fair to evaluate all students using the same linguistic criteria. However, MAP Reading Fluency is not a test of language proficiency in either Spanish or English; it is an assessment of reading development and the foundational skills required for reading. It makes sense that the criteria of the test differ based on the unique features of each language. Consider, for example, that Spanish-speaking children do not spend as much time on decoding as their English-speaking peers do, simply because of the transparent orthography of the Spanish language. Once they can decode, they move on to connected text and comprehension-based development, and they likely do this earlier than their English-speaking peers.

There is also a misconception that multilingual individuals compartmentalize languages in their brains, but research reveals a more integrated and dynamic cognitive process. What this tells us is that multilingual students do not have separate mental language compartments but, rather, access all their languages simultaneously. When we assess them exclusively in one language and according to one language’s criteria, we not only oversimplify the complexity of their linguistic abilities but also fail to capture the richness of their cognitive flexibility. When we assess multilingual students using a monolingual framework, we disregard the seamless way they navigate and utilize multiple languages.

Testing multilingual students in only one language risks undermining their true academic potential and neglecting the valuable skills they bring to the table. This is why MAP Reading Fluency in Spanish is designed to reflect the reading development of Spanish speakers authentically and accurately, according to the linguistic features and criteria of the Spanish language. The same is true of MAP Reading Fluency in English for students whose home language is English.

Una invitación (An invitation)

I hope I’ve been able to address your most pressing questions about MAP Reading Fluency in Spanish.

My colleagues and I would like to continue to hear from educators who rely on MAP Reading Fluency to better understand their students. Your insights and experiences are invaluable to us and can help guide us forward in our commitment to continuous improvement. Please share your ideas and questions on our website so, together, we can come to a greater understanding of reading development for our Spanish- and English-speaking kids.

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