I attended the May meeting of the Board Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee where I heard some talk about the MAP test that I couldn't reconcile on my own. I wrote then that I would try to ask Wendy London about it, and I saw her - and Mark Teoh - about it yesterday.
My confusion from the C & I meeting was quickly resolved. Ms London had said that the MAP test was nationally normed but she had also said that it was keyed to the Washington State Standards. These can both be true because the questions our students see on the MAP test are chosen from the pool of available questions only if they are applicable to the Washington State Standards. That's how the test is geared to the state Standards. The students' RIT scores can be compared to the scores of students across the nation even if they didn't get the exact same questions that our students got. That's how they can be nationally normed. It's worth noting that the MAP test is the only assessment our students get - before the ACT and SAT - that can be compared to results from students outside the state.
I asked about the difference between how the test was sold and how it is now used. It was sold as a formative assessment, but not only isn't it being used that way (I don't think it could be used that way), but no one even talks about it being used that way anymore. Instead, the test is being used for a lot of other things, mostly as a management tool. It's used to assess teacher performance, it's used to determine eligibility for advanced learning programs, and it may be used to compare school performance. It doesn't appear produce any direct benefit for students or teachers.
Both Ms London and Mr. Teoh gave me blank looks. They weren't here when the District first bought MAP. They didn't make that decision, they didn't sell the test to the Board or the public, and they weren't going to take any responsibility for how that was done. They agreed that the test doesn't really work as a formative assessment except in the roughest of ways and not in any practicable way. The formative assessments that are actually used to inform instruction are the little tests that teachers give, known in the lexicon as Classroom Based Assessments (CBAs - not to be confused with Collective Bargaining Agreements). These more frequent checks by teachers are what they actually use (and have always used) to guide their instruction and to know which students are ahead or behind. Moreover, they both agreed that standardized data provides prompts for questions but does not provide answers. The test results suggests things so we can make a closer inquiry but does not prove them. In short, all three of us were in accord on the what the test can't do.
At the C & I meeting, however, Ms London spoke about the value of the test, and she spoke of it with conviction. I told her that I envied her strong sense of the test's value and asked if she could share it with me. That's when Ms London spoke about the role that MAP plays in the MTSS - Multi-Tiered System of Support. This is the newspeak for Response to Intervention. They are completely synonymous. There have been changes in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the federal law that governs education, to bring MTSS into the core. So if you don't know about MTSS you better learn about it now because it is the new model for education in America and Ms London is an adherent.
Here's how it works. The schools are all responsible for delivering the core instruction. You know, math, literacy, science, history, arts, etc. This is "Tier I" and everyone gets it. To check that everyone is getting it, we do an assessment. The MAP is that assessment. The MAP has two values that the CBAs can't provide. First, they are district-wide so we can know where and how our curriculum is - or is not - aligned. The Standards and academic expectations should be the same in every 4th grade classroom so we need a shared assessment for them all. Second, the MAP is national, so we can confirm that we are not setting the bar too high or too low but in alignment with national expectations. Ms London sees the MAP as an exceptionally good Tier I screening assessment and that's how she intends to use it.
There is an expectation that this assessment, which is intended as a screening tool, will show that the core instruction is working for about 80% of our students. The screening tool will show that some students are working either above or below grade level. This discovery should lead to a conversation between the principal and the teacher that goes something like this:
PRINCIPAL: "Mrs. Teacher, the MAP data indicates that you have four students in your class who are working below grade level in math. What are you doing for these students?"
TEACHER: "Actually, Dr. Principal, there are six students in this class who are working below grade level in math. Three of the four who were identified by the MAP test and three others."
As a result of the MAP test results, the three students identified by the MAP and the other three identified by the teacher, are subjected to additional assessments which are more diagnostic in nature. The MAP is not a diagnostic test. It can suggest IF something isn't working well, but it cannot suggest WHAT isn't working well. These six students are now in Tier II.
Tier II begins with diagnostic assessments to discover the nature of the problem and continues with an intervention to address the problem. This intervention is delivered in the general education classroom by the classroom teacher. It could be additional, targeted skill practice. It could be a review of a concept that was missed. It could be the presentation of a lesson in an alternative way. The District is working on building a catalog of interventions to address the range of problems. At Mercer, one of the interventions which proved effective was the use of Saxon textbooks in lieu of the CMP II materials. There are further assessments to determine if the intervention has been effective. If the intervention is effective, then they are continued as needed.
If, however, the Tier II interventions were not effective, then we move on to Tier III. This represents a stronger effort at the school level and could include a referral for a Special Education needs assessment.
What is key about MTSS is that it happens at the individual student level. There is a determination of whether or not each individual student needs any intervention. There is a determination of what kind of intervention each individual student needs. There is no blanket statements about entire schools. The whole idea of "school segmentation" is exposed for the absurdity it always was. This led to more blank looks from Ms London and Mr. Teoh who would accept no responsibility for the policies and practices of previous administrations. To this point, Mr. Teoh showed me a chart from a presentation he made to the board on the Winter MAP results. Nearly all of our schools have students scoring all along the entire spectrum of results on the MAP. Nearly every school has students among the top scores and students among the bottom scores. Every school has both high performing and under-performing students. To deliver the interventions on a school-by-school basis instead of a student-by-student basis is indisputably asinine.
MTSS, of course, also means providing something outside the core instruction for students who are working beyond grade level. There should be an identical conversation between the principal and the teacher about students who are working beyond grade level and what is being done for them. Students working beyond grade level should also get a Tier II intervention and, if that is not sufficient, they, too should be advanced to Tier III.
The MAP data could also be used to indicate some information about the class as a whole. That could lead to questions and a conversation about what the teacher is doing to get unusually strong student outcomes in some strands or what would help the teacher to improve instruction in strands that are getting weak outcomes across the class. This could not happen with CBAs. We need a tool that is the same from class to class.
The Executive Directors of Schools should be having similar conversations with principals about what they are doing for students who are working above and below grade level and what they are doing to share instructional practices that produce strong results and what they are doing to provide support when the instructional practices produce weak results. This could not happen with CBAs. We need a tool that is the same across the district.
Ms London spoke - passionately - about implementing MTSS at every school. She spoke about teachers doing 60 minutes of core instruction followed by 30 minutes of either intervention or enrichment. For every student. We are nowhere near that yet. There are some schools which have been early adopters of this practice - Maple and Mercer to name two - and they are deep in it. There are some schools that have waded in, but not yet dived and there are some who have a toe in the water. Most of them, I'm sorry to say, are still on the shore. Implementing MTSS appears to be Ms London's core focus. It is going to be a complex challenge. Not only will she have to build the catalog of interventions and enrichment, but she will have to convince people to adopt the practice.
This is a bottom up discipline. It is student-centered. It seems kind of weird to make a top-down mandate to do things in a bottom up fashion but that's where we are. I think we can help. I think that MTSS sounds marvelous. Without any of the fancy nomenclature it just sounds like good teaching to me - and good practice by principals as well. Like any great idea the response from most lay people is "This makes so much sense. Isn't it obvious? Isn't this how they are doing it already? How else would they do it?" We can provide a little bottom up pressure as well. We need to go into our children's schools and ask where our kids stand on MTSS. We need to ask what intervention or enrichment they are getting. We need to ask principals about how they are implementing MTSS in our school.
When people talk about innovation in education what they really mean is creative problem-solving. That's the promise of MTSS. Let's see if we can't get this to happen for our kids, our teachers, our schools, and our communities.