New testing measures help provide growth

Robert Smith

Pawhuska Public Schools has been using Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) testing this academic year to track student academic growth, and to provide data for a move in the direction of teaching specifically to individual needs of K-12 youth.

MAP testing, which is provided by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), a non-profit based in Portland, Ore., is not a new thing to U.S. schools, but it is new to Pawhuska. Superintendent David Cash said Monday that the thing that may set Pawhuska Public Schools apart from some other districts is that PPS isn’t using MAP just as a general diagnostic tool.

Rather, PPS is using what it is gleaning from the testing to change the way teachers do their jobs and the way students think about their educations. Cash, who is in his first year at Pawhuska, promotes the notion that teachers should do much more than simply make sure their students have been urged to master whatever academic skill goals the state of Oklahoma has set for a particular grade.

Instead, teachers are using MAP data to figure out where students have skill deficiencies and to remedy those shortcomings so students will be prepared to master more difficult material. Students are being encouraged to take responsibility for their own educational success.

“It’s common sense,” Cash says, explaining that non-educators seem to readily grasp the sensible quality of the approach he’s championing.

Pawhuska Public Schools did MAP testing early in the fall semester and again right before the holiday break. It will likely do another round of this type of testing in late April or early May, Cash said. The MAP process not only generates data that educators can use, but provides information for parents so they can tell from year to year what their kids actually know.

During a recent Board of Education meeting, district officials shared MAP results with board members and allowed building principals to offer comments about the effect that the introduction of MAP is having in Pawhuska.

Amy Sanders, principal of Indian Camp Elementary School, which serves kids up through second grade, said teachers in her building had taken the process of addressing student academic deficiencies and promoting academic growth very personally.

“I’ve had teachers texting me, asking if they should be working at Walmart,” Sanders said, explaining that teachers were very disappointed if their students’ academic growth numbers were very modest.

Sanders also said student satisfaction with school has improved this academic year. She cited, as an example, a pupil who missed more than 50 days of school a year ago due to behavioral problems. The same student had missed only seven days of school this academic year, as of mid-January.

“It’s because he finally feels like he’s getting it,” Sanders said. “We’re setting goals with our students.”

Byron Cowan, principal of Pawhuska Elementary School, which serves kids in grades three through six, said the use of MAP data to directly address student needs is having a revolutionary effect on the way his teachers are thinking about their jobs.

“It’s a complete mindset change for the majority of our teachers,” Cowan said. “It’s starting the conversation about getting these kids where they need to be.”

MAP testing in the early grades can yield a prediction by fifth grade of how a child will do on the ACT when he or she reaches the point of taking that college-entrance test.

Cash endorsed the value of talking with youngsters about what they want to be when they grow up and what sorts of things they’re going to have to learn to make that a reality.

“It’s a great conversation to be having with a kid, quite honestly,” he said.