SALEM – Students in Salem elementary schools have a better chance of improving in math, reading and science, their teachers are convinced, because of a different kind of test that measures their progress instead of only how they answer on the one day per year kids take an SOL test.
Standards of Learning tests are required in Virginia, but Salem educators believe MAP – Measures for Academic Progress – give a better picture of what their students know.
And what they need to improve on.
Results from September’s MAP tests were released Tuesday night, Oct. 8, to Salem School Board members. Those results show a gain in students’ achievements over those from the spring, according to Dr. Joe Coleman, director of assessment for Salem Schools. “In all cases, Salem elementary schools have exceeded their target.”
But he told school board members, “We teach children, not percentages.”
Coleman is also principal of G.W. Carver Elementary, and it was his third-grade teachers who were the guinea pigs for MAP testing three years ago.
The next year, MAP testing was extended to all third graders in Salem. Now all third, fourth and fifth-grade students in Salem are tested fall, winter and spring using MAP. Andrew Lewis Middle School used the test last year but is switching to a different kind of assessment this year, Coleman said, known as Interactive Achievement.
Three of the teachers at Carver who were among the first to use the MAP tests with their students sat down last week to talk about why they believe MAP is a better tool than Standards of Learning testing.
“This is what we’ve asked for. MAP tests show our students are growing, learning,” said Michelle Palleria, who teaches math and social studies in fourth grade.
“Which is what parents want to hear, that their children are learning,” said Amy Raines, who teaches third grade reading, math and social studies.
“MAP pinpoints the low kids and they have a goal, and also the high kids and they have a goal,” Palleria explained.
“It’s nice to see what you need to work on to keep the high kids challenged,” said fourth-grade language arts teacher Betsy Hall.
“I think going back to those kids starting off high at the beginning of the year. We don’t know how smart they are,” Raines said. “These MAP results made me realize I need to be doing something else with these students.”
“And you did,” said Coleman, noting the improvements of some of her individual higher excelling kids.
MAP results are less intimidating to parents, teachers agreed. “We can sit down with parents, and say, ‘This is what we’re going to work on with your child,’ ” Palleria added.
For example, Raines said, showing a goal-setting worksheet with the student’s name blacked out, “This fall test shows an overall math score and where we want the student to be by spring.” She will be going over fall testing results at the November parent-teacher conferences.
“In fourth grade, it would include what the student did in third grade,” Hall said.
Under math, that particular fourth-grader goals worksheet shows an overall achievement of numbers and number sense; computation and estimation, measurement, geometry, probability and statistics, patterns, functions and algebra, and where the student is in understanding each.
Under reading, goal performance shows word origins, comprehension of a variety of fictional texts, and a comprehension of a variety of nonfiction texts.
Unlike criticisms of SOL tests – which many believe causes teachers to “teach to the test” – MAP tests aren’t tests that students can study for. That reassures students and causes less pre-test anxiety, teachers say.
Hall and Palleria team teach the same students. “After I explained to my students this number is your goal, a lot of them wanted that written on a Post-it-note, and kept it on the corner of their desk during the year.
MAP testing is done on laptops off the worldwide web. “Because the tests are individualized for each student, they can sit side by side and they can’t cheat” by looking at someone else’s answers, Palleria pointed out.
Coleman said Salem is one of the first Virginia school divisions to use MAP testing. He did not know how many in the state are using MAP, and which school divisions nearby use it.
Testing costs $10.80 cents per student. This year there were 850 students tested in the September tests, he said, which would make a total expenditure of about $9,180.