Archive for Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Area school districts change tests to better track students

August 30, 2006

Both Shawnee Mission and De Soto schools are using a new testing service to get a more accurate picture of student success.
The Measure of Academic Progress, or MAP test, is being given to students in all Shawnee schools this semester through online access. Administrators say the MAP gives parents and teachers a real-time update of what students really understand.
Students in third through 12th grade will be tested several times throughout the year. Tests in each subject take about 45 minutes to an hour, but are not timed. Unlike standard tests that ask the same question to each student, the MAP tests adjust to the student's level of difficulty. If the student answers a question correctly, he or she will get more difficult questions. If the student answers incorrectly, the test adjusts to give easier questions. After the MAP test is administered several times throughout the year, teachers will have data that show the effectiveness of particular programs. The MAP tests are being offered in addition to the Kansas State Assessment tests, which are required by law in all public schools.
In the Shawnee Mission district, the program was piloted last year in a few schools. Bluejacket-Flint Elementary School, Hocker Grove Middle School and Shawnee Mission Northwest High School students took the MAP test last year. This year, the district is having all schools take the MAP test in reading and math. It will replace the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills. Shawnee Mission students are taking the tests now and will take them again in the winter and spring. Students attending school in summer will also take the test.
Bob Winkler, director of assessment and testing, said that while state assessment tests determine whether or not a school makes its adequate yearly progress goal, it doesn't say which programs or students aren't making the grade.
MAP testing gives teachers an idea of which students are having trouble and which programs are successful.
Winkler said that if students were to take a special reading class, other assessments or tests wouldn't evaluate their reading skills for another year or two. With MAP, the same students are tested several times throughout the year.
"With Iowa tests, you had a fixed form and because everyone gets the same set of questions, part of its purpose was to separate the data into a bell curve and give students a rank," he said.
Winkler said changes in education put more emphasis on what a student actually understands rather than how they compare to students across the nation. With MAP, for example, an advanced third-grade student would have the opportunity to answer more difficult questions to show how much they understand sixth-grade-level math questions. Because the test is administered several times throughout the year, it shows whether the student has learned more after being in advanced math programs.
"You can get a lot more individualized level of instruction," Winkler said.
In the De Soto district, students are just beginning the test this year. They'll also take the test in fall, winter and spring and in summer school, if they attend. De Soto schools are testing the students in math, reading and language usage.
Alvie Cater, director of communications, said the De Soto district stopped giving the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills two years ago because it wasn't meeting required standards.
Kim Barney, Coordinator of Learning Services, said the MAP testing is less disruptive to the learning process since it takes less time than some other standardized tests. She said the students could easily access their test from any computer with online access at the school. The teachers have the results within a matter of days.
Both districts said they would be sharing the data with parents during parent-teacher conferences. As they get new data, parents will even be able to see charts of how their students are progressing in school.

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