Notes from the Board Table: Measures of Academic Progress
I picked up the paper the other day to find an interesting headline, “Obama Administration Calls for Limits on Testing in Schools.” Apparently the federal government is planning to issue guidance early next year about how school districts should limit testing to no more than two percent of students’ total class time. So maybe I find that a bit ironic given how much of our testing is government driven.
Regardless, the timing of this announcement was remarkable, since earlier this week the Wilton Public Schools announced a new testing program has been adopted. Parents were notified on Monday that the program, “Measures of Academic Progress” (MAP), would be administered to our K-9 students, and that testing would begin within the next few days.
Parents understandably felt blindsided by this news. Social media erupted, and so did the phone lines with concerned parents wanting to understand more about MAP, and to express concern at the short notification. In full disclosure, the board had not been briefed on the new assessment program, and shared parents’ frustration at the lack of communication.
That said, I don’t think the communications stumble was intentional. The decision to implement MAP testing was made in Mid-October and the administration was focused on providing the assessment data to teachers for the Nov. 3 professional development day. I do think Superintendent Smith did an admirable job of responding to parent concerns, and clearing up the confusion resulting from what I called “a self-inflicted wound.” Within a day, a follow up letter was distributed from Assistant Superintendent Chuck Smith that included responses to parents’ most pressing concerns. In addition, Chuck provided a thorough review of the MAP program, during Thursday evening’s Board of Education meeting,
Any parent who may have missed the administration’s follow up letter can review the content on the district website: www.wilton.k12.ct.us. If you still have questions or concerns, I urge you to contact your child’s building administrators, or to send a note to the Board of Education at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I won’t get into the specifics of the testing procedure, since they are covered in Chuck Smith’s follow up letter. I do though, want to express my strong support for the new strategy. I spent a considerable amount of time over the past few days learning about MAP, and understanding how it will be implemented and why our administrators believe this is the best course for our students. I have full confidence this is a positive step for the Wilton schools, and will be of tremendous value to our students.
The purpose of the tests is to provide teachers with individualized data about each student. MAP testing is adaptive, meaning the questions get harder if a student seems to have grasped a certain concept, and conversely, questions will become less difficult if a student seems to be struggling. Our students have never taken an adaptive test before, which means our teachers have never had access to this level of detailed, real-time information. It's also encouraging to note that implementing MAP testing will in most cases reduce the total amount of time our students spend taking standardized tests as several other overlapping tests will be discontinued.
Another important factor is that MAP testing is aligned with Common Core, and is thus predictive of how a student will perform in SBAC testing. As you know, our district had a subpar performance in the SBAC tests that were administered last spring, and we are working diligently to correct instances in which the English and Math curriculums are not aligned with Common Core. MAP will be an important way to gauge our effectiveness in making the necessary curriculum adjustments.
Superintendent Smith often says that standardized testing is “one leg in a 3-legged stool” that will lead us to academic excellence:
• Comprehensive curriculum review will ensure that rigorous standards are set that challenge our students and incorporate best practices in teaching.
• Curriculum coaching, performed by our new team of coaches, will improve classroom instruction. Coaches will work with teachers to ensure consistency of learning across all grade levels, and provide continuous instruction in teaching strategies.
• Comprehensive assessment will allow us to establish benchmarks so we can continually monitor student achievement, and identify areas that might need additional focus.
You will hear a lot about the three-legged stool concept going forward, since each “leg” is a core component of our district’s strategic plan.
Finally, please mark your calendar for next Monday, Nov. 2, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Middlebrook Media Center. The Board of Education and Superintendent Smith are hosting a “Community Conversation” as a way to encourage members of the community to share their thoughts about our schools. Next week’s meeting will have a “Back to the Future” theme, whereby participants will be asked not only for their thoughts about current practices, but to envision our schools 20 years from now. The board engaged in a similar exercise a few weeks ago, with some pretty remarkable results.
I hope to see you next Monday, Nov. 2, at 7 p.m. in the Middlebrook Media Center.