Monday, October 28, 2013

NWEA Testing Cancelled for January: A Positive Sign?

Ann Arbor school parents with students in the affected schools (all of the elementary schools, plus Ann Arbor Open and Scarlett) got this email the other day:

Dear AAPS Parents and Staff:

The NWEA MAP assessment was carefully selected for the purpose of evaluating student progress and has been utilized in the district for the past two school years. We believe in the power of quality assessment data to inform teacher practice to meet the individual instructional needs of our students. Unfortunately, we have encountered technical difficulties with NWEA assessments this fall and as a result, will be implementing mid-year changes in our 2013-2014 district testing protocol.
As we implemented the NWEA MAP web-based testing system this fall, many students experienced technical difficulties in accessing the tests, delays between questions, and system outages. Over recent weeks, District representatives have been working diligently with NWEA to address these technical concerns and to determine the validity of the fall assessment data. As a result, the Fall NWEA MAP student progress reports will not accompany report cards during this fall assessment cycle.
Despite our best efforts, NWEA has been unable to ensure that these technical issues can be resolved prior to the scheduled winter assessment. In light of the technical difficulties, we have decided to suspend winter 2014 testing. You can expect to hear more in the coming months as we monitor this situation and use this time to coordinate opportunities for teachers, parents and administrators to look more deeply into our current Ann Arbor Public Schools assessment practices. We will work together with a forward focus on the opportunities coming to us with the next generation of assessments and how we may leverage these opportunities to improve teaching and learning for all our students. We will remain in touch with you over the coming months to provide updates as we move toward the time for end-of-year assessments.
Jeanice K. Swift
Superintendent of Schools
Ann Arbor Public Schools

Just a few notes:

A quick observation about the technical difficulties. When we started using the NWEA MAP test, there were major technical difficulties, and the district was told it was because of our "old" computers. From my point of view the customer service was also terrible because the district was told that the students' test scores couldn't be suppressed at the end of the tests.
Then the technology bond passed, and now Ann Arbor's computers are no longer too old, but there are still "technical difficulties," poor customer service, etc. It's also a little bit confusing because several other districts in the county use the NWEA MAP test, and I think a lot of them haven't had the same kinds of problems. Why is that?
What does it say, also, for the future of computerized testing in general? The test that is supposed to replace the MEAP next year is a computerized test.

Cancelling the January testing is good news, in that it means more time for teachers to teach, and it also means the computer labs won't be tied up for weeks. It was a smart move by Jeanice Swift, since the district was already anticipating the testing being a failure because of the technical problems. It  doesn't mean anything (yet) for future rounds of the test.

"We believe in the power of quality assessment." Yes, so do I!  Let's find the right tools for quality assessment. (We may not need to look far.)

I hope this comes to pass: We will "use this time to coordinate opportunities for teachers, parents and administrators to look more deeply into our current Ann Arbor Public Schools assessment practices."

And here's the thing--if you appreciate the cancelling of this round of tests (or if you don't); if you think these tests are not useful (or if you think they are); if you have other ideas for assessments. . . send Jeanice Swift a note and let her know what you are thinking!

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