On a Saturday morning in February, third-grader Caitie Howard sat outside the school library finishing a fruit smoothie. She swung her legs while chatting about theater class and how her tongue was turning red from the drink. When she started talking about school, she turned serious.
“We have a big MAP test to do in April,” Caitie said, “and I’m scared about it.”
The Missouri Assessment Program, known as MAP, is a standardized test administered every April to elementary, middle and high school students. This is Caitie’s and the rest of the third graders’ first MAP, but she knows what it entails.
“I’m not good at tests, and everyone says it is a big deal,” Caitie said.
It is a big deal, especially with the emphasis on individual standardized testing in the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The act, signed by President Bush in January 2002, examines test scores to assess whether children are getting an effective education. Last year, half of the Columbia Public School District failed to meet state standards, which are higher than the average ones set by the act.
To avoid penalties, the Missouri General Assembly is considering lowering the MAP standards. Still, students, parents and teachers are nervous as testing season starts today.
“The most daunting thing to me, being a first-year teacher especially, is the amount of importance that is placed on the MAP test and how widely the scores and percentages are known,” Newell said.
If schools are below the required progress level, they are labeled as failing to make federal “Adequate Yearly Progress.”
Schools are judged overall and also by 10 subgroups using categories such as ethnicity, economic status and English proficiency. The school is penalized if any subgroup doesn’t make Adequate Yearly Progress.
“The MAP test is not appropriate for all students, yet all students are expected to take the MAP,” Gerling said. “One test does not give an accurate measurement of exactly where students are at academically.”
One year of failing requires the school to provide tutoring. A second consecutive failure means the district must offer the choice of another school and transportation to other schools or districts. Additional years on the list require the district to restructure the school.
The federal, state and local emphasis on the test means preparation begins early.
“We start working on the MAP test the first week of school,” said Barbara Young, who also teaches at Blue Ridge. She said each month has accomplishment goals and there is extensive planning all year.
Karen Foster, a teacher at Rock Bridge Elementary School, is preparing her students for the MAP by spending time on test-taking skills. She is worried about the time constraints.
“My little third-graders who are 8 or 9 years old are expected to write an amazing story in less than 90 minutes,” she said.
Some don’t think the test should be a concern. Brian Herndon teaches at Mill Creek Elementary School and thinks the MAP fits into the district curriculum well because both follow state Grade Level Expectation standards. He said his students aren’t nervous because preparation begins so early.
“I believe that assessment is very important because it drives our instruction,” Herndon said. “I feel the MAP test is as fair a way to assess as we have available to us.”
Yet some children continue to worry, as do some parents. Kim Kiesewetter has worked with her third-grade daughter, Lindsay, to make sure she is prepared.
Kiesewetter also wants to be prepared herself.
She attended a third-grade parent meeting in March at Paxton Keeley Elementary School, where faculty explained aspects of the test and parents aired their concerns. Parents received tips, information and an overview on administration of the test.
Diane Audsley, a literacy-support teacher for Columbia Public Schools, has scored the test for the past two years and said many MAP test scorers at the CTB/McGraw Hill testing facility in California consider it to be one of the hardest state assessment exams in the nation.
“Missouri has a very rigorous test,“ Audsley said. “We set the expectations very high.”
Part of the reason the Missouri test seems hard, Audsley said, is that the Missouri level of Adequate Yearly Progress requires students to be above grade level.
Parents are worried that too much teaching focuses on the test.
“I think most parents kind of feel that a lot of classroom time is spent preparing for the test, when the time could be better spent learning other skills,” Kiesewetter said.
Elaine Hassemer, the principal at Paxton Keeley, said children are not only learning test skills, but also life skills.
Next year, MAP testing will increase so every student in grades three through eight are tested in both math and English. The act requires tests in science to be added by 2007-08.
The federal government expects every student to be proficient in reading and math by 2014.