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Reading assessments beneficial for some, but not all
Many believe education is not a one-size-fits-all arena. What may work well for some students, may not be beneficial for another group.
For 10th grade English teacher Susan Wachtman, effect shows in Measures of Academic Progress — a test that she must give to her reading intervention students at Central Kitsap High School.
The Central Kitsap School District started using the MAP test last school year with elementary students in kindergarten through second grade. This school year, the test will be given to kindergarten through sixth grade — about 30 classes. In addition, 12 classes at the secondary level are participating in the MAP testing this school year.
But some teachers have concerns.
"Nobody asked me if I wanted to participate in this testing," said Wachtman. "It's not useful to my students."
MAP is taken electronically by students three times a year. The first test of this year was taken last month. Its purpose is to assess each students' abilities individually. If a student answers a question incorrectly, the next item will be easier.
The test is designed to reveal a student's precise learning level, according to Northwest Evaluation Association, the nonprofit that has been developing and researching the test since 1977.
Teachers are then able to change their curriculum or teaching style based on their students' learning levels.
Students in reading intervention classes are a grade or two behind their classmates in reading. Wachtman said that her goal is to make sure her students pass the High School Proficiency Exam, which is the state's exit exam in reading and writing that must be passed in order to graduate high school.
Wachtman said the results of her students' MAP test are not helpful to her. When she and other teachers were trained to proctor the MAP test, she said she was told that individual information is only meaningful after a student has taken the test three times.
Wendy Kassler, also an English teacher at Central Kitsap High School, said having her students take the MAP test does not meet the needs of her class either. She teaches a reading intervention class for 11th and 12th grade students that have failed the state HSPE exam.
Kassler's state-funded class is structured around building Collection of Evidence, a state-approved alternate assessment allowed after a student fails the HSPE, which will be taken again in the spring.
With Collection of Evidence, students create an extensive portfolio of reading and comprehension. If the work meets state requirements, students can graduate even if they do not pass the HSPE exam.
"This was imposed on me," said Kassler of the MAP test. "It doesn't help with what I am supposed to be doing. It doesn't help the students achieve their goal."
The goal Kassler refers to is for her students to complete their Collection of Evidence in the proper manner and to meet the deadlines.
"There's a lot of deadlines you can't negotiate," she said adding that the district's deadline for submitting the collection is Dec. 13. "The MAP test has put them behind."
The estimated time to complete MAP for secondary students is 50 minutes, said Dan Dizon, the district's executive director of curriculum and instruction.
Wachtman said it took her students about an hour to complete the test. For the elementary students, MAP is given two days in 30-minute increments. There is a 24-hour turn around in results from the MAP test.
Dizon said teachers have the ability to share and work together to determine how to change their teaching — if needed — after seeing the results from MAP. They can also work with professional development specialists for assistance, he added.
The cost of MAP is about $13 per student, said Dizon. The three-year $2.5 million grant that the district was awarded by the Department of Defense Education Activity will cover the cost of the MAP testing for both the elementary and secondary students participating in it.
The grant also includes funding full-day kindergarten at two elementary schools and professional development for teachers.
The DOD grant stipulates that students in grades kindergarten through 12 must benefit in literacy. The reading intervention teachers were selected because they have most of the academically needy students in the secondary schools, district officials said.
Interventions at the elementary level occur in the regular classroom.
MAP is aligned with Grade Level Expectations, the state's reading standards. Although the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction will be switching to Common Core Standards, which will be piloted in the 2013-2014 school year, MAP will also be switching over to the new standards.
MAP is aligned to the standards in every state that the test is given in, said Jean Fleming, director of marketing for Northwest Evaluation Association.
Nearly 5 million students take the assessments — including other MAP test subjects other than reading — each year, according to the association.
Tricia Sawyer, a first grade teacher at Green Mountain Elementary School, said she sees the test as being beneficial.
"I'm in love with it," she said.
Sawyer said with MAP, she is able to determine her students' individual strengths and weaknesses — whether it is phonic awareness or mixing up punctuation — in a quick turn around.
"With first graders, the beginning of the year is like herding cats," Sawyer said adding that getting next-day results for her students that target certain areas is useful for her.
For some of the primary students, the MAP test includes wearing headphones and listening to questions that they answer. Sawyer said that having the test be electronic also makes it more interesting to the children.
Sawyer said she has always divided students into reading groups in her class and by using the results of MAP, she is able to make sure students of the same level are grouped together.
"It really targets the needs of the kids," said Franklyn Mackenzie, the district's director of secondary teaching and learning, of the MAP testing. "It zeros in pretty quickly."
But for Kassler's specific needs for her students, she doesn't see how MAP is helpful.
"It's taken valuable time from my students," she said. "In a regular English class I think it could be good."