Opinion editorials, reviews and personal essays
By Gabrielle Zhu
September marked the biannual Measures of Academic Progress test, commonly known as the MAP test, taken by students from grades three to nine. The ritual repeats each year, involving large blocks of time taken from classes and replaced by an hour of staring into a computer screen to answer questions about mathematics, reading, and language usage. The MAP test takes a student’s scores in different areas of a subject, such as geometry under mathematics, and displays them in tandem with the total time taken and results from other students. It aims to let teachers identify students who need more guidance and subject areas that need more clarification. But while the MAP test provides insight into student learning, in some cases, it can be ineffective or even hinder learning.
On a regional scale in the United States, where it is most commonly administered, the test has come under the scrutiny of some educators. In Seattle, Washington, teachers noted three main concerns about the test. The effectiveness of the test’s ability to measure learning progress could be undermined by a lack of student motivation, stress to students, costing more than it is worth. Though these issues are specific to Seattle, they reflect a similar concern across schools.
A study conducted for the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance revealed that the degree to which teachers used the reading test data by grouping students with similar learning abilities varied. Most schools and grades often saw no significant change, while the remaining saw increases in grouping by abilities. The extent of the MAP test’s effectiveness varies on a case by case basis, which still leaves the question of its effect on Shanghai American School (SAS) itself.
At SAS, most students and many teachers dread MAP testing days. For the students, it is another test they have to plough through. And, for teachers, it steals away from time they could spend on coursework since the test takes up an entire block’s worth of time. Moreover, classes before and after the MAP test do not feel significantly different. They resume from the almost the exact place they left off, and the MAP test is forgotten until the next time it is administered. With teachers not so much as mentioning how the MAP test influences their content, the test likely has little to no impact on teaching methods and outcomes at SAS.
Despite the plethora of benefits the MAP test can potentially bring to SAS, few of them are particularly effective. With that being said, the test can offer students and parents a window to their personal growth in subjects by comparing previous test scores. This facet alone, however, does not provide a strong argument for the test. Similar information can be gleaned from report cards, which also has the benefit of showing an average across a semester, eliminating some of the skew of a single test.
At SAS, the MAP test amounts to little more than a time-consuming test that gives few benefits in return. Some departments have acknowledged this in the past. In previous years, freshmen taking Algebra II or Algebra II and Trigonometry courses were not required to take the mathematics test as the classes already ran on extremely tight schedules. With all this in mind, it seems clear that the MAP test is essentially an unnecessary accessory. However, it is still likely that it will continue to take place in the future.
Currently, there is speculation among high schoolers that the PSAT could serve a similar function as MAP tests. Although this speculation has no grounds, it does raise questions about the test’s viability as an alternative to MAP tests. While PSATs do not scale the difficulty of questions to student performance on previous questions, they still offer measure of student proficiency in the same three areas as MAP tests. Additionally, PSATs are also practice for SATs, an exam that most students at SAS will take. This means that in the case that the results of the test are not used to enhance classes, students still put a good use to their time in practicing for a later exam.
In any case, a transparent effort to integrate MAP test results into curricula would validate its use at SAS. Until then, students and teachers alike likely will have to endure the unnecessary administration of MAP tests.