Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Testing the Year Away: Ruth's Comments

My friend Julie and I went to last week's school board meeting to raise some concerns about the amount of testing going on in the district, and in particular, some concerns about the NWEA MAP test. I introduced myself and then this is what I said:

I’m the parent of children currently at Ann Arbor Open and Skyline, and a third child who graduated from Community. I didn’t have much of an opinion about the NWEA MAP test until I went to an Ann Arbor Open Coordinating Committee meeting last fall.

Until that meeting, I didn’t understand that kindergartners were being administered this test in the first weeks of school, and that their first introduction to the school computers was through this test.
I didn’t understand that this test was being given at the same time as other assessments, including SRI and the MEAP.
I didn’t understand that this test was testing some of the same things—like reading proficiency—as the other tests.
I didn’t understand that staff and teachers were being diverted from other work to proctor the test.
I didn’t understand that the students’ scores were being given to the students at the end of the test.
I didn’t understand that while this test was designed to follow student progress, the plan is to use it to evaluate teachers.
I didn’t understand that this test meant that classes couldn’t use the computer lab for weeks on end.

But now—I understand.

I appreciate that the school board wanted to get ahead of any state-mandated teacher evaluation requirements, but the thing is, if you want to be a model, you’d better make super sure that you are creating a better model than what you would otherwise get. I am not convinced of that. And I don’t want to be spending technology dollars to support testing.

The other day I got my seventh grader’s MAP report, and I will leave aside that it was difficult to understand—because I’m sure the communication can be improved. The report—and I asked my son’s permission to share—showed that he was an advanced reader. We didn’t need a test to tell us that. Not only would any teacher who spent 10 minutes assessing his reading know that, but in addition we already have the SRI and the MEAP telling me the same thing.

I asked him about the test, and he said, “Well, a lot of kids don’t like it. But I think it’s okay.” I asked him why, and he said, “Well mom, it’s really, really long. So it tests if you can stick with things.” And as an anecdote, that’s funny. But what’s not funny is that, that’s not what it’s testing.

The other truly bothersome thing about this test is that we are giving it to lower elementary students. This is a school district where we don’t give letter grades to kids before middle school in any school in the district. And I’m proud of that. I would bet that—aside from spelling quizzes—most kids don’t take classroom tests before upper elementary school. And I’m proud of that too. Yet we’re spending weeks and weeks testing kids—taking time away from instruction. Since the MEAP is state-mandated, I think we need to look at removing some of the other assessments.

I’d like to ask you to do 5 things:

1.     Stop testing the K-2 students with the MAP test immediately.
2.     Remove the scores from appearing at the ends of the tests as soon as is practical.
3.     If the district decides to keep the NWEA, then drop some of the other assessments.
4.     Invite Deborah Ball, Dean of the UM School of Education and head of the state’s teacher evaluation committee, to discuss the state’s plans for teacher evaluation.
5.     Since this is a pilot, do a rigorous evaluation of MAP’s usefulness. Evaluate whether the MAP test is working for everyone else. And do that by surveying principals, administrators, teachers, parents and students—anonymously—so that they can share their true opinions.

[I gave the school board my contact information. You, of course, already know that you can contact me at rlk234 (at)]

[Side note: I didn't bring this up, but the NWEA test costs over $92,000 in the cost of the test alone, and not including any staff time devoted to it--or technology costs. So if we need to save millions of dollars from the district budget, and revenue enhancements are not going to bring us a whole lot of money, then this would be a good place to start. Also, when Dr. Green responded to our concerns, she noted that the concerns about access to computer labs and technology could be alleviated by passing the technology bond. However, as noted above, I don't want to pay for technology so that we can do more testing. So in her response, she actually gave me a reason to vote against a school funding request--something I don't think I have ever done.]

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Ruth and Julie for attending this interminably long meeting to speak your mind.

    My second grader had his first experience with testing in Sept. with NWEA MAP. He didn't like it - probably due to the fact that the test calibrates its questions to his earlier responses. So the test gets progressively harder or easier based on the child's responses. The second time around the math test started my second grader with a problem more appropriate to my fifth grader.

    So the score at the end of the test is pretty much meaningless, I would guess.

    On the plus side, the test has inspired both of my children to seek more advanced math material at school. I have been gently encouraging this request with both teachers as well. The 5/6 grade teacher notes that the district curricula doesn't include the material (Algebra)and that many student in the class are eager to learn it. The teacher needs to find alternative resources - and with so much testing and other demands is struggling to find the time.

    On the negative side, if a child is feeling lazy that day he/she can just flub a few answers and the test will get easier. Not a lesson that I am eager for my children to learn.

    I do hope there will be a serious evaluation before the district signs up for another year of NWEA MAP.

    From another AA Open parent