Wednesday, February 6, 2013

MAP-Making and Unmaking

Well this is interesting. Seattle teachers and parents are boycotting the administration of a standardized test given to students.
The MAP test takes three and a half weeks to administer to all the students in his school who are required to take it, Michie said. It's given three times a year, and the school has only one computer lab, which means that for ten weeks a year, the lab is available only for MAP testing.

This follow-up article quotes an op-ed penned by the president and CEO of the company that makes the MAP.

Matt Chapman, NWEA's president and CEO, responded to the Seattle boycott with an op-ed in the Seattle Times. Teachers were "rightfully concerned" about high-stakes testing, he wrote. "In a decadelong quest for accountability, we have lost sight of the real purpose of assessments in the schools, and the mission of public schools themselves—student learning."
But MAP was no ordinary standardized test, he said; in fact, it was "the anti-standardized test."
"Developed by researchers, educators and psychometricians, MAP yields immediate insight for teachers while they still have an opportunity to teach and influence a child's learning," Chapman wrote. Legions of teachers were using MAP results to tailor their teaching to individual students, thereby improving learning for "countless kids," he said.
What this tells me is that the test's intent is valuable, but its application is not realistic. The MAP assesses students' growth over time, starting with a diagnostic and including a midpoint (hence the three times per year)--that is good. Much, much more sensible than an end-all-be-all once-time end-of-the-year  big ol' honkin test. The MAP uses the flexibility afforded by digital technology to adapt instantly to each child as he or she works through the test--that is good.  Much, much more sensible than a one-size-fits-all, static, mute, unresponsive thing. The MAP includes extensive training to help educators use the results to customize instruction for their students--that is good. Much, much more sensible than that one-time end-of-the-year test, which the teachers for that grade level don't even see, and which is fairly useless for guiding instruction (as well it should be, as it is a summative assessment, not an instructional guide).

But the MAP seems to have been developed without the benefit of piloting in schools or modeling in realistic schoolish circumstances. Testing children ten weeks a year (and that's only one test--the students must take additional standardized tests as well) is absolutely silly. That's about 30% of their instructional time! Tying up the school's entire digital capacity for that amount of time is almost as silly. And the mountain of data produced may just be too steep to reasonably climb. Actually that last thing always seemed to me to be the inevitable quandary of any meaningful standardized data collection, ever since state standards gained momentum at the turn of this century--when we finally got around to producing a useful test that provide substantial data at a level of detail that actually helps target instruction, given the large number of students, well of course the data pile was going to be impenetrably gargantuan!

And as always, as ALWAYS, can I say it loud enough, as ALWAYS, the implementation is where even good policies go to die. Because, while we come up with thing upon thing upon thing upon THING to add on to the teetering piled mess of school initiatives, we do not change educators' working conditions. Even the most engaged educators trained most diligently on the most sublime of instruments can't make headway if their working conditions are outrageously lacking in the time they need to guide, nurture, mediate, evaluate, remediate, communicate, encourage--and teach.

The comments in the first article turn almost immediately to Testing Is Bad No Testing Is Good Shut Up No You Shut Up. That's inadequate.Wouldn't it be amazing if the teachers and parents were listened to respectfully and without fuss, the MAP-makers went back to the drawing board with some valuable feedback and perhaps a new development model allowing for a more iterative process, and the result (be it MAP or something else) were a more practical and less obtrusive, and therefore more useful, assessment tool?

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