Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Let's talk about RITS, NWEA, and Progress-based testing

I want to discuss the use of MAP testing (Measure of Academic Progress) and RIT scores from the NWEA. This topic is important for parents, for teachers, and for people charged with evaluating the performance of schools and school districts. MAP tests provide parents and teachers with information on where each student is performing, and consistent measures of the amount of progress they are making over time. In the simplest terms:

Parents and teachers generally want to know two things, when looking at test scores: 1) Is my student performing at, above or below the expectation for their grade level (academic performance), and 2) Is my student making progress (academic growth) during the school year? MAP test scores help answer both these questions, but can be difficult to understand at first. MAP test scores (measures of academic performance) are different than other standardized testing scores, in that MAP uses "RIT" scores to place student's achievement into academic RIT bands that correspond roughly to grade levels.

At last Wednesday's Board Workshop the Board of Education listened to a a number of presentations on efforts to improving achievement among English Language Learners and what are often called "first generation learners." In my last post, I began a discussion on the implications of transforming education from a system which provides classroom opportunities to a system which is supposed to deliver all students to a pre-selected level of proficiency. In the old system, the one that existed when I was in school, the teacher delivered a pre-defined curriculum for each grade. First graders got first-grade math. Second graders got second-grade math, and so on. If a student fell behind, well, generally, that was viewed as just part of life. We didn't look at the teacher as having caused that problem. A teacher provided opportunities to learn. Students came to school, and they were either ready for her class, or they weren't, and if they weren't they fell behind and stayed behind.

a bit of an oversimplification, I know, because of course, schools provided remedial instruction, and in later grades provided slow math for slow math students and fast math, sometimes, for fast math students. But the universe of education was built around the idea that students needed to take advantage of the standard curriculum. If you were behind, you'd better figure out how to catch up, or you'd be permanently behind. If you were ahead, find something else to do while you are waiting for the class to catch up.

Now in today's education, we are supposed to deliver all students to a pre-defined level of proficiency, as I have said. This has created a significant problem in trying to assess how a school, school district or teacher is doing. The temptation is to evaluate schools, teachers and school districts by the percentage of students who reach the predefined level of proficiency. The problem with that is that different students come to school with radically different levels of preparation. Comparing schools, without making allowance for the level of preparation would be like saying that pediatricians are better doctors than gerontologists, because the gerontologists lose more patients than the pediatricians. It would be like giving one teacher a class of students who can run really fast and another student a class of students who can run real slow, and arguing that the teacher whose class wins a relay race competition is a better teacher of running.

And so, in my last post, I said that one of the questions that we need to answer, that is the people who are responsible for the quality of our public education, is how to judge the amount of progress that is possible. If a teacher has a classroom of several dozen students who come to school already in the bottom 25% in terms of vocabulary, or in terms of other forms of school preparation, how are we to evaluate success in that classroom as compared to a classroom which has several dozen students who come to school already in the upper 25% in terms of vocabulary, or in terms of other forms of school preparation. And, if we decide that it is important that the children in the two classroom eventually reach similar levels of proficiency, how long should we expect it to take to bridge the gap, and what resources are required.

We need a way to find out how we are doing that truly assesses the progress that we are making. It should give credit where credit is due. If a student who is way behind makes significant progress, we want to recognize that progress, because it means that the combination of teacher, student and family are doing the right thing. If a student who is way behind makes little progress, it should not afford the student, the school, the teacher and the district an easy alibi: "well what do you expect, he was so far behind."

It is for this reason that many districts are moving to a new system of assessment that measures progress. The one that we have chosen is provided by the Northwest Evaluation Association. "NWEA has the unique ability to measure a student’s achievement and academic growth, independent of grade, across time. From the insight provided within MAP™ and its reports, educators can compare class or grade-level performance to students from a wide variety of schools across the country. Status norms provide a starting point for educators to review data. They get an understanding of where each child is, and needs to go. Having the right data is a key component in making learning more individual to each child. You can find out more about how the testing system measures student success by looking at this link: NWEA 2008 Norms.

NWEA fulfills a variety of objectives. It provides information to assist teachers in making sure that all students are learning. It provides valid information that measures the amount of progress that is occurring in a classroom. It rewards teachers for their students' progress rather than punishing them if they happen to have a large number of students who come into their class behind.

This is very important in a system that expects all students to progress to proficiency. In the old system, the teacher didn't have to adjust her curriculum to the student, because teachers provided predefined opportunity. But if you expect all students to make stellar progress towards efficiency, you have to find ways to address the educational needs of the students who are behind, and you cannot do that, unless you obtain early information on what the student knows and what they need to do to catch up. That's why an important element of the NWEA program is fall testing. For more information, click here:. Why is Fall testing so important?

When my kids went to school, and certainly when I did, tests came at the end of the year. The purpose was to provide information about what the student had learned, not to drive the instruction that the student would receive. But, in a system that has high expectations for all students, it is critical to find out where the student is deficient right at the beginning, so that something can be done immediately.

The NWEA test works in the following way. (See Teacher and Leadership Workbook: )

The NWEA computerized MAP tests provide teachers, students and parents with an accurate assessment of a student's ability, accurately measuring what a child knows and needs to learn. When administered at regular intervals over time, it is possible to find out whether an individual student, or an entire grade level, is making satisfactory progress in ...basic skill areas. Teachers can use this assessment information for instructional planning for individual students or an entire class.

Each student takes the MAP test on a computer......In the MAP system, the difficulty of the test is adjusted to the student's performance. That is, the difficulty of each question is based on how well the student has answered all of the questions up to that point. As the student answers correctly, the questions become more difficult. If the student answers incorrectly, the questions become easier. Within an optimal test, the student answers approximately half the items correctly, and half incorrectly. The final score is an estimate of the student's achievement level. Since each student in a class receives a different test, it is unlikely that two students taking a MAP test will see the same test items. In addition, a single student who takes the test more than once is not likely to have any test items repeated.

After a student completes a test, the program reports the student's RIT score. A RIT score in a given subject area shows the student's current achievement level in that subject. A student's RIT score should show growth from year to year, and since the MAP system keeps a record of all tests administered at a site, historical reports can be generated showing students RIT scores across years.

What is a RIT score.? See RIT Scale Explained: A ll of the tests developed by NWEA use the RIT scale to measure student achievement and student growth. The RIT score relates directly to the curriculum scale in each subject area. It is an equal-interval score, like feet and inches, so scores can be added togeter to calculate accurate class or school averages. RIT scores range from about 100 to 200. RIT scores make it possible to follow a student's educational growth from year to year.

That's it. I have to go. More on this topic next time I post.

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