I’ll be frank. I’m not sure where to start. My first draft of this was five pages full of rage and anger that was probably more cathartic than productive. In the interest of transparency and acknowledging my bias upfront, I’ll just say that I think MAP testing is doing more harm than good in our district. I do not know how widely held that belief is. So I thought about how to start building my case, which arguments to make first, which negatives to highlight… which mostly led me to wonder if the question of whether MAP is good or bad is really just a distraction, a false frame for the conversation. It’s definitely not the place to start. To me, the driving question for this conversation really is this: who gets to make instruction and assessment decisions in the classroom?
Every student is different. Every classroom is different. As educators, we know these simple truths so thoroughly that we often leave them assumed instead of stated. This tacit bond and common understanding has been the undercurrent of nearly every productive conversation I’ve had with a colleague. These truths also fundamentally frame how we approach each class with a goal of reaching every student. The ability to exercise our professional judgement and autonomy strengthens our ability to address the astounding level difference we see every day.
These truths extend beyond classroom practice and spell a clear direction for policy: any universally mandated assessment or pacing or curriculum runs counter to our efforts to reach a diverse group of learners. At best, such requirements merely waste time we know time could be used to better support students. At worst, we are forced to comply with practices we see actively hurting our students and schools. The question as to if, or where, MAP testing falls on that spectrum is secondary. The primary question is who decides what assessments and instruction happen in a classroom. The longer I teach, the more I have learned and am reminded that I should never make that decision for a colleague. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have never had a colleague make that decision for me.
It could be tempting to say that the solution to this dilemma is easy: make MAP testing optional. That might be a small move in the right direction, but it doesn’t reorient the system toward our values — like taking a step back instead of turning to face the other way. MAP testing began as a top-down initiative and making it optional would not rectify that. Any system has power dynamics. The pressure exerted by something that is already paid for by people in power who really want it is very real and very difficult to counter act. The cliché “corporate-optional” exists for a reason.
Top-down decision-making is not fixed by more decisions made at the top. The process must be undone and rebuilt from the bottom. Returning assessment and instructional decisions to the classroom teacher is the only way to honor and empower the teacher autonomy that is necessary for supporting students. In other words, the decision about whether to use MAP, or any assessment, must be initiated by the classroom teacher.1 Any compliance, accountability, and pressure from above regarding MAP must be removed first. How a decision about assessment is made and who makes it are equally if not more important than what decision is made.
So, maybe I don’t know where to start the conversation because it’s really many conversations that easily blur and overlap and bump clumsily into each other. The subject is the same, but the context is different. The conversation about whether any given teacher finds MAP testing valuable to their students differs greatly from the conversation about required MAP testing for all students.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll try to detail more specific concerns about why I think required MAP testing is doing more harm than good in our district. Some might register with you and some might not. Those differences of opinion are great conversations for educators to have. Iron sharpens iron. If those differences exist, I hope we can keep separate whether they are over practice or policy. We know teacher autonomy isn’t really about us; it’s about our students and the space we are able to make for them. Students are best served when decisions about their instruction and assessment are made by those who know them. As professionals we know our students and as professionals we must also trust each other. I hope we can remember the dedication we’ve always had to teacher autonomy and that making it the foundation of our policies is what allows each of us to be the teachers our students need us to be.
1 It probably needs to be noted here that teacher-initiated decision making differs greatly from school-based or principal based decision-making, both of which still induce the same lack of autonomy and invoke the same power dynamic as district-level decision-making.