Teachers, here’s how to use MAP Growth data

You’ve tested with MAP® Growth™ (or will soon). Now what?

For many schools, learning isn’t looking like it did in January—and it certainly isn’t looking like many of us hoped. The silver lining? All of these disruptions to teaching as we knew it are providing ample opportunities to rethink, well, everything. Including how to use assessment data. That’s why I sat down with Robin Whitacre, manager of the Professional Learning Design team at NWEA, to learn more about how to put data to good use as you dig into the new school year. Her answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Many teachers begin exploring their students’ MAP Growth data with the Learning Continuum. What is it, exactly?

The Learning Continuum is a class-level report that gives teachers a view of all their students’ RIT scores so they can plan scaffolding and differentiated instruction. It helps you identify whether you need to reinforce learning, develop it, or introduce new material so that students can be appropriately challenged—and so that they can all be working toward meeting grade-level expectations.

It sounds like the continuum helps teachers locate each student’s zone of proximal development, or ZPD. Is that right?

Exactly. The Learning Continuum identifies the ZPD, that point of productive struggle, for kids. It helps teachers know what students already know, what’s likely still a bit out of reach for them, and what they can conquer with help.

MAP Growth […] is just one way for teachers to understand where their students are in their learning. It’s an incredibly valuable way, but it’s one of many teachers should consider.

Looking at MAP Growth data is a great way to start the year, especially this year, when COVID-19 school closures have affected learning so much. We know not all students got the guidance they needed at the end of last school year, and we know many will need extra support in reading and math if they’re going to reach grade-level expectations. Which is what we want for every kid. We want every student reaching grade-level expectations. We know they can get there!

Can teachers look only to the Learning Continuum when planning a lesson?

No. MAP Growth data—via the Learning Continuum—is just one way for teachers to understand where their students are in their learning. It’s an incredibly valuable way, but it’s one of many teachers should consider.

Why? Because students don’t see every single item from our item bank that’s appropriate for their grade level. That would make for a really long assessment. Instead, the Learning Continuum represents the concepts and skills of the entire item pool arranged by difficulty. So, many of the statements that appear in the Learning Continuum are based on an inference of what students are ready to learn. It’s a really good inference, but teachers still need to confirm that inference.

What other data sources should teachers use?

The short answer: formative assessment. But let me explain a bit more about MAP Growth data first.

A RIT score can indicate that likelihood of a student’s readiness to learn, their ZPD. It is helpful in constructing appropriate scaffolding and differentiation strategies to support kids in accessing that grade-level content. While “RIT” really stands for Rasch Unit scale, I prefer this definition of the acronym: Ready to Inform Teaching. And informing teaching is different from driving it, right?

[Teachers] need to combine MAP Growth data with formative assessment.

When teachers are looking for day-to-day, minute-to-minute information about what kids know and are ready for next, they need to assess them day-to-day, minute-to-minute. An interim assessment is a great start, but it’s only given three times a year. They need to be gathering data more often. They need to combine MAP Growth data with formative assessment. My colleague Brooke Mabry has a great blog post on using both as part of responsive planning.

What could happen if educators only look at MAP Growth data?

In a word, inequity. I have a brief story about one of our partners that explains why.

I worked for over a year with a school in New Mexico when I discovered something kind of funny going on. At the time, they were using our data as their main source for planning instruction. I even saw several classroom teachers placing checkmarks next to learning statements on the continuum to document what they had taught. It was a school with very low proficiency and very low growth. Their growth was declining in reading, so they followed the directive of their leaders and focused exclusively on building reading skills.

They implemented some very well-intentioned, but misguided, changes. They stopped using grade-appropriate literature circle books and grade-appropriate text, for example, and decided to use an intervention program instead of core instruction for all kids at all grade levels. This intervention program was very focused on skills in isolation with low-level text. In an effort to move quickly through the texts, they took out all the activities that included reflection, collaborative learning, critical thinking, and writing, many of the types of experiences that produce that productive struggle for kids that helps solidify learning and provide access to grade-level standards.

The students and the teachers became un-empowered. For teachers, it became all about compliance. For kids, the measure of success became reading fast. It didn’t matter that they didn’t understand what they were reading. The only productive struggle that was happening in the school was the struggle to stay awake.

A strong virtual learning community will go a long way in building solid relationships this year.

Fortunately, after looking at their MAP Growth data and comparing it to their state test scores, we had a get-together and talked a lot about what was going on. We realized that for several years, critical thinking had been a specifically assessed area on the New Mexico state test. Their scores in critical thinking were steadily declining, yet it was the area that New Mexico weighted highest on their state test. So teachers took the data to leadership, got permission to redesign their whole reading program, and began to focus more on how they could help kids deeply engage with grade-level content. They still used MAP Growth data to know which skills to work on, but they also began using the grade-level expectations to plan upfront for core instruction. Just like that responsive planning strategy Brooke wrote about demands. They also embarked on a several-year journey to gain expertise in formative assessment to better know how to adjust instruction in the moment. After the first year of their redesigned program, they had the highest rate of growth of all the 15 schools in the district area where I worked.

Most students are spending at least part of the school day learning from home right now. How can teachers collaborate with them—and their families—to put both interim and formative assessment data to the best possible use?

Student empowerment and ownership of learning is at the heart of every single thing that we do. And now, in this new reality of learning from a distance, students have to be able to own their learning more than ever.

A strong virtual learning community will go a long way in building solid relationships this year. Teachers can also use our new Family/Teacher Planning Tool. It’s a great resource for starting a conversation with students and their families about what to work on, both academically and also for social-emotional learning. I encourage teachers to check out our eBook on formative assessment as well and our recent blog post on how to make tried-and-true strategies work well online.

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