Part five of a five-part series sharing the Academy’s thoughts on effective and intentional student assessment

Few among us, if any, dreamed of the day we might enter the classroom to “weigh the chickens.”  We “chicken farmers” in our formative years of educational philosophy-building largely thought about how we might manipulate the food, change the water delivery method or build a better coop.

As you’ve now read in several blog posts for this series, public schools in the 21st century have reasonably succumbed to legislative pressure and financial incentives while growing focus on standardized assessments.  Our classrooms, hallways, and school buildings overall have become — at least for several weeks each spring — hatcheries of test-taking strategies over innovation; congruent thinking over divergent, creative thinking; muted walls over expressive ones; accountability over attentiveness.  Teachers spend valuable time discussing item-based teaching and learning how to prepare for the logistics of the test.  Little time, if any, is left for teachers to focus on the elements vital to the overall educational health of our students — as illustrated in the chicken analogy.

At Harrisburg Academy, we have the flexibility and ability to prioritize our time as we see fit.  We “manipulate the food” by constantly paying attention to content standards (including Common Core as one element) and paying attention to how students are responding to content presentation and lessons through formative assessment (primarily questions and observations).  We “change the water delivery method” by analyzing trends in instructional technology, monitoring and assessing our supplemental resources, and adjusting communication strategies for the sake of the students but also parent partnerships.  Building a “better coop” is the complete picture.  We collaborate between teachers to grow interdisciplinary opportunities, and in recent months have announced both a brand new bell schedule and a new Learning Management System (LMS), called Blackbaud ONCampus, for the 2017-18 academic year.

At the close of this blog series, we are pleased to announce another big improvement to the “coop.”  For several years now, Harrisburg Academy has been using the ERB’s Comprehensive Testing Program (CTP 4) to measure annual achievement benchmarks for our students.  This static paper/pencil test has provided valuable annual performance data on Kindergarten – 8th grade students across several content areas, and it has highlighted areas for improvement in both student learning and in teaching.  While we have been satisfied with this assessment tool, the Academy has decided to switch to what it believes will be an even better assessment for our students and for our program.

The new assessment, created by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), is called Measures of Academic Progress (MAP).  Here are some key differences to consider:

  • The MAP assessment has quite a few tests, but we’ll be using three for each student:
    • Mathematics
    • Language
    • Reading Usage
    • Note that students in Kindergarten-2nd grade will have a slightly different structure and jargon, but it’s these same three areas.
  • The MAP assessment will be delivered twice per school year instead of once.
    • This helps us to measure growth within the academic year as well as across academic years.
    • Don’t worry!  The test takes less time than the ERB, across both testing windows.  Each window lasts about three hours total, six hours on the academic year.  Each student will take a different amount of time, but these are good working averages.
  • The MAP assessment is an adaptive response test.  Each student will start with a different multiple-choice item.
    • If the student gets this item correct, the next test item is more challenging.
    • If the student gets this item incorrect, the next test item is less challenging.
    • This iterative process continues until a singularity is reached (called a RIT score).  Students may receive test items that are several grade levels above or below their current grade.  The test responds to the student to create a more symbiotic experience.
  • The MAP assessment results are available quickly.
    • Administrators can access reports the next day.
    • Teachers and parents will be able to access and receive reports within days or weeks of the assessment instead of months later.
  • The MAP assessment results will be used by students and teachers alike.
    • Students will be able to use their fall results to write goals for improvement for the spring.
    • Teachers will be able to access student profile information that breaks down each child’s assessment uniquely to analyze which skills across each of the three areas are ready to be reinforced, developed or introduced.  This will be a big help for differentiation efforts.

You can read more about this new assessment tool here.  The 4th grade students participated in a spring assessment practice round, which has helped us ensure we are adequately prepared for a K-8 roll out in the fall.

Today is a big day for the chicken farmers of Harrisburg Academy, but also for our chickens!

Learn more about Harrisburg Academy on our school website.