Bittersweet Adieu

When I uploaded our Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) test scores to the Northwest Evaluation Associates (NWEA) after school today it marked my last official act as MAP Test Coordinator. This means the end of days stressing over computers working in one of our labs. Making sure teachers get their classes to the correct lab to take the correct test. Chasing down the seemingly endless list of students who need to makeup their test before the window closes. Trying to explain to our Instructional Science Coach who feels slighted as I explain Science just is not considered a top priority and may not get tested because we don't have enough time in the window. Teachers hounding me on why they can't have computer lab time or why they can't see test scores on Test View. Having our School Secretary quickly tell me all the test proctors have been pulled for sub duty in classrooms then duck under her desk for fear she may have done this one too many times and I will snap. Finally, trying to hunt down that one computer in our building still running Test Taker and preventing me from uploading the day's scores keeping me from going home at the end of a long day.

It will be great because it will give me more time to get into classrooms to work with teachers and students on integrating technology into learning which is what I get paid to do. Also, one might think I would be elated over the end of a duty that would make my doctor put me on industrial strength blood pressure medicine if he took if he checked it on a good day and put me on industrial strength anti psychotics during a bad one. However, I had a little bit of sadness one gets as one chapter of their life closes as another begins. The reason for this feeling is that I understand the importance of MAP testing in the educational process.

MAP testing is an adaptive test which means as a student correctly answers questions it will get progressively harder until the student misses one. Then the questioning will take a different tact. At the end of the a test the student, and teacher, receives a score. However, the real value of the test is going into NWEA's reports website to see exactly where a student is strong and where he or she is weak. This information is valuable in predicting how he/she will do on South Carolina's PASS test at the end of the year. Teachers can then tailor instruction to help students improve. Even better, this data can be accessed within a day or two of the student taking the test.

While I would gripe and complain about the problems that always came each MAP testing window, I would say I put up with it because I understood this importance of the test. MAP is probably the only type of standardized testing I actually like. However, General George S. Patton said "The moment you become so indispensable is the moment I fire you." With this in mind, it probably was time to move on. Our district placed greater importance for Instructional Technology Coaches to get into classrooms which meant MAP had to go. As I move on though I can look back with pride about be involved in a process to help our students and look forward to the sympathy I will show to the one unlucky enough to take on this vital but tough duty. MAP testing, adieu.

What did I learn from my experience at the South Carolina Regional NWEA Conference? First, MAP test data does give good data on how well students are doing in school. Second, MAP test data shows teachers and administrators what students need to work on to achieve more in school. While MAP test data is good for individual students, it could have a potential of overwhelming teachers. Individual student growth plans are a good idea but putting those plans into practice could overwhelm the one tool in the classroom which will not be added, a classroom teacher.

So how do decision makers help out teachers? One way many schools have taken is RIT Band Classes. This means grouping students into classes based on RIT score levels. Teachers will be working with children of similar abilities and deficiencies. This would help tailor lesson plans to promote academic growth. Another means would have prepackaged lesson plans and activities prepared for teachers to use with students of different RIT Ranges.

Technology can help teachers work with kids of different RIT Ranges. Services such as Compass Learning provide lessons and activities on computers. The problem with this solution is the lack of technology infrastructure. More computers are needed in individual classrooms so some students can work on individual lessons while teachers can work with smaller groups or individual students. One educational tool with great potential is the use of gaming. Gaming allows students to learn at his or her own pace. Students must learn or master a skill to accomplish a task before moving on to the next task. If you don't believe it, just watch kids play games on Play Station or X-Box. Another benefit to gaming is how students will collaborate to solve problems or share information to help each other achieve the next level. Again this would be a great benefit to teachers who could use help in working with students. Also, this teaches students to become life-long learners, a skill that will be needed in the workplace of today.

Unless computers can get into classrooms, this opportunity to increase student achievement will be lost and the task will become harder.

Yesterday was the second and final day of the South Carolina NWEA Conference in Hilton Head Island. I attended two breakout sessions to round out my conference experience. The first breakout was on Academic Audits done by Sandra Chavez. The second was about NWEA's Knowledge Academy or its online instructional tool to help clients implement MAP testing and later use data the tests yield to make informed educational decisions.

Beaufor County was the first school district to use Academic Audit in helping boost academic achievment of students. Academic Audit is based on the research of Dr. Lauri Bassi of McBassi & Company. Dr. Bassi's theory is that investments in human capital will produce meaninful returns on that investments. Too many organizations look at labor and the training of labor as a cost that reduces bottom line profits. However, Dr. Bassi demonstrated that organizations that invest in continued training of employees and reducing the barriers that hinder employee productivity, while reducing profits in the short term, will increase productivity and organizational profits. For a school district, student achievement is considered the profit of such an organization. Surveys are conducted on how well employees believe they can perform their job at various schools. The data is then grouped and shared with school principals and district administrators. With the data, leaders can work on making changes that allow increased productivity and eventually increased student achievement. As a side note, I have used Dr. Bassi's work in my economics classes. In my opinion she has rewritten the factors of production for the new service/information based economy of the 21st Century.

The second breakout session was about NWEA's Knowledge Academy. Knowledge Academy are mostly online tutorials to help client schools conduct MAP testing then use the data the tests generate. This is a great idea but unfortunately it is also, unwittingly, a well kept secret at NWEA. A recommendation I made was to make links to Knowledge Academy more prominate on the Association's website, Hopefully, they will take this suggestion and run with it. Such information would have helped me greatly when I was trying to set up and run MAP testing back in August and September of 2006.