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SSD discusses new testing system at retreat

June 7, 2012

By STEVEN NALLEY
sdnedu@bellsouth.net

Incoming Starkville School District Superintendent Lewis Holloway presented possibilities for a new student assessment system at an SSD retreat Thursday at the Noxubee Wildlife Refuge’s Larry Box Center.
Early in the retreat, Holloway asked board members and administrators about their goals for the district and the values they wanted to serve as the foundation for meeting those goals. Near the end, he gave a presentation on the Northwest Evaluation Association’s Measures of Academic Progress.

Holloway said the online MAP tests cost $13 per student, and the schools would give the tests twice each year. Sudduth Elementary School Principal Lisa Thompson and Ward-Stewart Elementary School Principal Diane Baker have looked at MAP for more than a year, he said, because it could potentially replace many of the seven assessments elementary students currently undergo each year.

“Their issue is they’re not getting enough information to improve instruction,” Holloway said. “(With MAP, teachers could be) spending less time on assessments and more time teaching.”

Holloway said the test evaluates students’ academic growth with a Rasch Unit or RIT scale where every point carries the same value. The MAP test starts at the third grade level, he said, scaling down in difficulty as students get answers wrong and up as they get answers right.

The MAP emphasizes meeting students at their current level, Holloway said, whether they are gifted or have special needs, and ensuring that all of them make at least one year’s worth of progress by assigning that progress’s value to a set number of points. He said MAP also breaks students’ test performance into specific categories, allowing teachers to focus on areas where children need the most help. Parents can also view MAP data, he said, letting them give their children extra attention in those areas.

“If you have teachers struggling with (teaching) concepts, principals can sit down with them,” Holloway said. “(The MAP) lets (principals) see where teachers have issues in teaching strategies. If they have information on where the issues are in their teaching, they self-correct.”

Holloway said while parents would have access to data showing their children’s strengths and weaknesses, data showing teachers’ strengths and weaknesses would remain confidential.

“This information is between the teacher and the principal,” Holloway said.

Holloway said the MAP will align with Common Core standards by this year, with outcomes written in Common Core language. If the board chose to move forward with MAP at a formal meeting, he proposes trying MAP early this school year and eventually holding the tests at the middle and end of every school year.

Eric Heiselt was of several SSD board members who responded favorably to MAP. He said he particularly liked the idea of it replacing several assessments SSD currently uses.

“(One thing I hear from parents often is, ‘My kids are taking tests way too much,’” Heiselt said.

Keith Coble, SSD board president, said SSD parents could build a stronger dialogue with the district from the clarity MAP offers.
“It strikes me that we could always do a better job of explaining to parents what we’re trying to teach,” Coble said.

Holloway said the plan is not perfect, but he knows of no other online assessment as inexpensive and deep as MAP. He said some may fear the clarity MAP offers, but he hopes to assuage those fears.

“It gives you very clear info as to am I going to be hired or fired,” Holloway said. “We’re going to lay low on that. There’s a big push across the nation to have ‘pay for performance,’ but I don’t believe in that.”

Holloway said he believes those who do support “pay for performance” misunderstand teachers’ reason for teaching.
“Teachers teach because they love kids,” Holloway said, “because they have had someone make an impact on their lives, and they want to be that person for someone else.”

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