The power of good assessment data
If data from objective testing like MAP are to be useful, students have to take it seriously. Kawai Liu and Sharon Ma look at how Shanghai SMIC Private School helped their students understand the way testing supports them.
An issue for Middle School
For many high school students, the primary purpose of taking standardized tests like the SAT and ACT exams is to score well for university applications and acceptance. But reasons for taking standardized tests are not as apparent to many middle school students and their parents. Teachers and schools know that standardized tests provide useful data to make informed educational decisions about curriculum and classes; they also provide parents and students documentation about a student’s growth from year to year, including a diagnosis of students’ strengths and weaknesses in each category of testing.
But – if the outcomes are going to be a reliable reflection of a student’s strengths and weaknesses, and the assessment data therefore useful for our purposes, the tests have to be taken seriously.
How MAP works
In 2013, our school began using the MAP testing (the Measure of Academic Progress), a computerized adaptive test that charts students’ academic growth over years of study. Students are tested twice yearly in Mathematics, Reading, Language Usage, and Science. Adaptive tests provide every student a unique set of test questions based on the test-taker’s responses to previous questions. As students answer correctly, questions become more advanced. If students answer questions incorrectly, the questions get easier. The tests are untimed, but most students use 40 to 60 minutes to complete each test section.
An emerging trend
After a few administrations of the MAP tests, our school noticed an unusual decline in student results. Believing that the decline did not reflect the students’ actual abilities, we reviewed possible reasons for such a trend in a series of faculty meetings with teachers and administrators. We questioned students’ efforts while taking the tests since students often view these standardized tests as “low-stake.” The results of the MAP tests do not affect their final grades.
Our first attempt
In 2019 we arranged a week of MAP testing using half-days of school. Classes were scheduled to take the MAP tests in the computer labs, and when not testing students worked on their individual exploration projects. However, the atmosphere of working on personal exploration projects is fun and carefree, which seemed too much of a contrast with the testing environment we were trying to develop. Test proctors and teachers observed that certain groups of students did not seem to take the MAP tests seriously. In our own view, we still had a problem.
No parent buy-in
Additionally, some parents seemed unaware that the school was administering the MAP test that week. We had assumed the parents knew the schedule and the purpose in their children taking the MAP as well as how teachers used the data provided. However MAP results were sent home after a considerable delay, long after students had taken the tests, and no follow up action was usually taken by the school after the distribution of the reports.
We needed to address the decline in student effort for the tests and challenge the associated apathy if we were going to generate data which was consistently useful for our purposes. Students had to understand what they were doing and why they were doing it.
SMIC’s intervention program
Our intervention program was carefully planned and commenced three weeks before the Fall 2020 MAP testing was scheduled. The revised structure included two advisory periods, one assembly by the Middle School Director, a rescheduling of the testing week, and a follow-up session with students after students took the tests. Further explanation of our process follows:
- We used two advisory periods (each 40 minutes in length). In the first session, subject teachers discussed with the students how teachers use MAP results to adjust teaching, including choosing materials and learning activities. We also introduced how high school teachers often check the MAP data to select applicants for the high school accelerated classes in Mathematics and English. During the second period, we distributed students’ individual reports from their last MAP test administration. Advisors talked to the students individually about their strengths and weaknesses revealed by previous MAP results. Advisory teachers guided students in completing a “Goal Setting Worksheet” provided by the MAP Organization to encourage students to make a personal plan for what they might do to strengthen their learning before the MAP tests. (Figure 1.1)
- Our Middle School Director gave an assembly to introduce the students how the school uses the MAP results to make educational decisions. She verbal encouraged the students and announced a competition for improvement between each grade for each category.
- Our school also rescheduled the MAP testing period. We replacing the time spent on exploration projects and used the time when students were not testing for test preparation sessions. Since social studies was the only core subject with no MAP test, students attended social studies classes and elective classes as usual to have breaks from test preparation. To give students the idea that the week was an assessment week, the social studies teachers also administered assessments during this week. Originally, we planned to have the elective classes also administer assessments, but this didn’t happen due to scheduling issues.
- Each homeroom held a mini party on the last day of the MAP testing week to celebrate the accomplishment of completing the tests.
- Post-test administration, we delivered timely feedback two or three days after the test administration by distributing MAP reports once we received the test results from MAP. We sent the MAP score reports to the parents along with the regular semester grade report to emphasize to students and parents that the school views MAP tests and school assessments equally. We identified lower-achieving students in Mathematics and Language Usage using the MAP scores, and remedial classes were launched to meet student needs.
In the week following the MAP test administration, we surveyed the students about their perception of their efforts for the Fall 2020 tests. The survey results revealed that students reported making more of an effort on the tests. Over 90% of the students agreed or strongly agreed that “I did my best on all my MAP tests” (Figure 1.2). 65% of the students thought that the test preparation sessions were helpful, and 74% believed that the advisory periods spent discussing the MAP test had motivated them to do their best.
We compared the Fall 2020 MAP results with the results from Fall 2019. The results support the effectiveness of our intervention program. The average scores in all four categories improved, and the improvements in Mathematics and Language Usage were statistically significant.
It is worth noting that this cohort of students participated in three months of remote learning during the COVID-19 online schooling. It is understood that due to online schooling part of their learning the previous year was fragmentary. However, even with this, the students recorded improved results. Therefore, we concluded that the intervention program was effective.
The results are encouraging, and we wanted to share our experience in motivating students to do their best on standardized tests. At present, we have no information to evaluate which intervention had the most substantial effect. Further research should be done to evaluate the differing parts of our intervention to substantiate which one(s) prove most effective. Hopefully other schools can adapt our ideas and motivate their students to improve scores on standardized tests.
Sharon A. Ma is an English Language Arts teacher and Theater Director also at Shanghai SMIC Private School – International. Sharon is currently studying for a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction. She can be reached at email@example.com.
All images kindly provided by Shanghai SMIC Private School – International