MAP Testing is Disruptive – Part 2

Ryan Davis

Standardized testing proponents often minimize its impact by saying that it is just one data point. Such reasoning downplays the disruptiveness and influence that standardized data points have.  Not all points are weighted equally. And, in our current culture and system, standardized data points carry more weight than others. As such, data from MAP will ultimately receive disproportional attention and find elevated value in our system. 

Imagine a bedsheet stretched flat in the air with a person holding it taught at each corner.  If each person sets a foam ball near their corner of the sheet, we could see and examine all four foam balls independently.  We might even be able to tilt the sheet and roll them around, controlling their position and our view. Now, imagine someone sets a bowling ball in the middle of the sheet.  We will pull harder on the corners, but the weight of the bowling ball will inevitably cause a deepening sag that funnels everything toward it. This is MAP. One point, just like all the others.  But, its weight in our system collapses all other points toward it.  

On a more practical level, we know what this looks like and what it means for students.  The weight one standardized data point can lead lost time in electives or other content to remediate or “double up” in a tested area.  Even though data points like a student’s passion for music or need for art or science may out number, they cannot outweigh the influence of a standardized data point.  This also means time and pressure to analyze the standardized data point instead of discuss ways to inspire joy, authenticity, and relevance in our schools.  

This happens not just because people with power will have an interest in perpetuating MAP, but also because the nature of MAP is self-perpetuating.  First, the convenience and belied simplicity of numerical data elevates the attention it receives.  It is simply easier and quicker to ask what percentile a student is in than to engage in a deep conversation about whether a student is having meaningful and authentic experiences.  It is easier and quicker ask whether MAP scores are increasing than to determine whether students are growing in abilities like critical thinking or community building. 

Numbers are easy to put on a form.  Numbers are easy to compare – student to student, teacher to teacher, school to school (even when such comparisons aren’t statistically appropriate, helpful, or even aligned to our values).  A number gives the illusion that it has condensed complexity to simplicity. These conveniences will always have greater appeal to administrators and decision makers, themselves, crunched by time, over booked, and perhaps unprepared to converse in depth about certain contents or pedagogies.  In other words, MAP may only be one data point, but because of its accessibility those in power will tend to rely on it more frequently and heavily and (perhaps even unintentionally) elevate its importance.  

Moreover, the culture and climate of JCPS will give further weight to MAP.  Every object has a resonant frequency – its own internal vibrations and hums, the rhythms of its working.  If that resonate frequency is matched by an outside force, those subtle waves become amplified and can shake the whole system with increasing intensity.  Any larger district will tend toward box checking and bureaucracy as a way to manage it size. Additionally, JCPS is already, and albeit slowly, digging out of a culture of fear and compliance that began with previous administrations.  These current and historical realities mean that resonant frequency of compliance and power still hums deep and consistently in our system.  

The nature of MAP matches these frequencies perfectly, and so we will see the worst sides of it, and ourselves, amplified.  This likely means more loss of time chasing test scores. More arbitrary praise and attention focused on areas with high scores, thus more pressure to emulate instead of meet the needs of students.  More attention to test-prep instead of creating meaningful and vibrant experiences for students. We already see this happening. MAP is becoming a bigger focus of faculty meetings, PLCs meetings, walk-throughs, district level conversations, etc…  More plans to address perceived MAP deficiencies are being required. Use of MAP and MAP data is already identified as “non-negotiable” and identified in nine different “success criteria” indictors that are assessed during a district Collaborative Calibration Visit (CCV). 

Mostly importantly, MAP is not a data point derived from unobtrusive observation.  As other articles have detailed, MAP has harmful and disruptive effects on teaching and learning.  In other words, MAP is questionable in its value to begin with and as a top down requirement it will never be just one benign and passing data point on an equal playing field with all others.  We are just beginning to see MAP’s influence and importance increase. The foam balls slowly orbit the rim of funnel once the bowling ball is added. But, then their pace quickens as they near the center. 

 As long as, MAP testing is a top-down requirement it will have disproportionate power, influence, and importance. For assessments to be useful (and also not misused), they must be initiated at the classroom level.  This of course does not mean a group of teachers initiating a policy and practice that becomes a top down requirement. It mean that decisions about assessment of students are made by people who know them: their classroom teachers.  When assessments are initiated in classrooms, without pressure or policy, they have a greater chance of being meaningful to students.  

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