School districts are easy targets for grifters.
Corporations everywhere are trying to sell them unnecessary junk and pocket wads of taxpayer cash.
The Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test is a particularly egregious example of this, but let me begin with a more everyday example.
I’m a public school teacher in western Pennsylvania, and when I returned to school this week before classes started, I noticed my stapler was irreparably jammed from last year.
Normally, I’d just go out and buy another one. But I was running out of time to get things done, so I went to the office and asked if they had any staplers.
As luck would have it, they did.
The secretary lead me to a closet full of brand new Swingline staplers.
I thanked her, took one back to my room and started stapling.
Three staples in, it was irreparably jammed.
When I returned home that evening and complained to my family about the woes of the day, my sweet 13-year-old daughter offered me a stapler we had around the house.
When I brought it to school, it worked like a dream.
It wasn’t some top of the line model. It was another basic Swingline stapler. It was slightly less boxy and more modern than the kind I got from the office. But it worked. That’s the important difference.
So why did the office have a closet full of faulty staplers?
Because most teachers – unlike me – know the staplers the district buys are crap. You have to purchase your own supplies.
But think of the money wasted here!
The basic model sells for almost $14 on amazon.com.
Those staplers – that many staplers – probably add up to hundreds of dollars.
And they don’t even work!
Sadly, the full extent of the waste district-wide is much farther reaching than just the staplers.
Later that very day, teachers in my building were forced to sit through a virtual training on the MAP test.
This is an assessment made by Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), a so-called non-profit organization out of Portland, Oregon.
The company claims its assessments are used by over 9,500 schools and districts in 145 countries – but none is more popular than the MAP.
Some states even require the MAP as part of their standardized testing machinery. However, in the Commonwealth, the MAP is used as a pre-test or practice assessment by districts that elect to pay for it.
My building – the middle school – used a variety of different assessments throughout the years for this purpose – IXL, CDT, etc.
However, things are changing this year. No, we’re not getting rid of these pretests altogether – why enact sane policy now after a decade of wrongheadedness!?
My district had used the MAP consistently for years at the elementary schools, so someone in administration thought it made sense to bring it to the middle school now and eventually institute it in the high school, as well.
Do we really need an assessment BEFORE the state mandated assessments?
Classroom teachers give enough assignments and tests of their own to know where their students are academically throughout the year. We grade them after all. What do you think that’s based on – guessing?
But certain administrators just love these pre-tests. They love looking at spreadsheets of student data and comparing one grading period to another. They think if the numbers go higher, it will be proof they’re good principals and functionaries.
It’s pathetic to be honest. What a waste of taxpayer dollars that could be used for actual learning! What a waste of class time that could be used for actual teaching!
And what a negative impact these assessment actually have on students and their learning!
For instance, at the MAP training, teachers were told the assessment’s job was to show how our students were doing in Reading, Math and Science compared with an average test taker.
How is that useful?
I don’t teach average test takers. I don’t even teach average students.
How is constantly comparing them to a norm going to help them improve?
If I went on a diet and stepped on the scale, learning that my weight loss wasn’t as high as an average dieter would not help me stay away from sweets. If anything, it would inspire me to go on a binge in the snack drawer.
It’s the same with my students. Constantly pounding into them how below average their scores are does not inspire them to do better. It teaches them that they cannot do what is being asked of them so they stop trying.
When learning a skill, it doesn’t help to know how well others are or are not learning that same skill. It matters how much you are learning in comparison to yourself. Yesterday I knew THIS. Today I know a bit MORE. Who cares what the so-called average learner can do!?
Students learn at their own rates – sometimes faster, sometimes slower. We don’t quicken the timescale with needless comparisons.
But no matter how many times I say such things to administrators or paid trainers from NWEA, they just don’t get it.
At this training, the instructor actually wanted to know what “elevator speech” teachers were going to give to parents about why the MAP was important!
It’s bad enough we’re being forced to give this crappy assessment, but now you want us to spout propaganda to the very people paying our salaries!?
Why not invite us to the school board meeting and ask us what we really think of this initiative? Why not have us submit comments anonymously and have them read publicly to the school board?
But of course not! That would be actually valuing the opinion of the people you’ve hired to teach!
It’s no wonder the trainer was anticipating blow back. Many parent and teacher groups across the country have opposed the MAP test. Most famously in 2013, teachers at several Seattle schools lead by Garfield High School actually refused to give the MAP test.
Having trusted teachers sooth community worry with corporate propaganda would be a big win for the testing company.
However, I’ll give the trainer one thing – she understood that the MAP assessment scores would not be useful unless students could be encouraged to take the test seriously. Nobody tries their best at something they think is unimportant.
Her solution was two-fold. First, NWEA has produced several propaganda videos to show students why the test is important.
I can imagine how much they’ll love that!
Second, the MAP is an adaptive test taken on a computer or iPad. And it actively monitors the students taking the test.
Teachers are supposed to monitor all this on a screen and intervene when it occurs. We’re supposed to counsel kids not to just guess and then allow them back on the test. If the algorithm still thinks students are guessing, we’re supposed to suspend their test and make them take it all over again.
Moreover, this is exactly the kind of test proctoring that would get me fired if I tried it during the state mandated Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA). I would be guilty of violating test security.
Teachers throughout the state have to take on-line classes every year about what we are and are not allowed to do during the PSSA test. Stopping students who seem to be guessing, is not allowed. I’m not even allowed to point out if a student skipped a question on the test!
I certainly can’t scrap a PSSA test that I think a student didn’t give his best effort on and make him do it again!
So how exactly is this MAP test a practice for the real thing!?
Even under the best of circumstances, it’s an artificial environment where scores are massaged to give an unrealistic picture of how students will do on the PSSA.
Of course, administration at my school has one more trick up its sleeve to get students to take the MAP test seriously.
Like the CDT, IXL and other assessments before it, administrators plan to use MAP scores to make decisions about which classes students can take in the next grade. Students in the advanced classes must test well on the MAP or be denied access to this class in subsequent years. Students who score badly on the MAP may have to take the remedial class.
And unlike the PSSA or Keystone Exams – assessments required by the state – administrators are trying to forbid parents from opting their children out of the MAP test.
State test – you can opt out.
Local assessment – you have to take it. Or else!
I wonder if enough parents will complain to the school board about such behavior or just give up and enroll their kids in the local charter school or the private parochial school located RIGHT NEXT DOOR!
As if this all wasn’t counterproductive enough, it’s also a huge waste of money.
Though NWEA claims to be a non-profit, the company posted $166,775,470 in revenue in 2020 – the most recent year available. Its CEO Chris Minnich made $397,582.
These people are making lots of money off this standardized testing baloney!
According to a 2015 brochure from NWEA about the MAP test, it costs $13.50 per student to take the test every year. And that’s just for the Reading and Math. It costs an additional $2.50 per pupil for the Science test.
So if we estimate 1000 students at the elementary and middle school level, that’s roughly $16,000 a year to take the test.
And that doesn’t include the price of trainings like the one I had to sit through this week.
According to that same brochure, the cost for a single days training is $4,000, though sometimes it can be reduced to $3,500 if you buy the right package.
Trainings can go up to $40,000 for multiple days and an in-person trainer.
I wonder how much money my district flushed down the toilet on this garbage.
I look in my classroom closet at the crumbling books, and wonder.
I look at my steadily increasing class sizes and wonder.
My district doesn’t need the MAP test.
We need a test of basic decency for decision makers.
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