MAP proficiency targets harder to reach each year

Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Blanchard Elementary kindergarten students line the entrance to the school while yelling “Pass the test!” as fellow students run the halls April 4 to get pumped about the upcoming MAP tests. (Laura Simon)

Much quiet focus by teachers and principals was spent during the past eight months in preparation for spring.

Now the focus turns from preparation to execution, as Missouri Assessment Program test booklets finally hit the desks of more than 600,000 students across the state.

Increases in the proficiency targets set by No Child Left Behind drive that focus. This year's targets, the highest ever at 83.7 percent in communication arts and 81.7 percent in math, may give an appearance that even more children are falling behind as school districts become less able to meet the federally-mandated targets. The targets have risen about 8 percentage points each year since 2002. Students in third through eighth grades are tested for proficiency in communication arts and math. A science test is also given to fifth- and eighth-graders.

At the building level, the ever-slimming chances haven't deterred teachers and principals from coming up with creative ways to motivate students to do well on Missouri Assessment Program tests. Parents are also included in the campaign to "pass that test."

At Cape Girardeau's elementary schools, activities designed to motivate students to do well and remind them of good test preparation and testing habits vary widely. Franklin Elementary teachers were featured in a video doing dances to begin a MAP rally for students. At Blanchard Elementary, teachers dressed up like cheerleaders for an assembly that included cheers and songs written by students.

"Go ahead and test me, because I am ready, go ahead and test me, because I have studied," sang a group of Blanchard students at an assembly April 4. Students taking MAP tests at Blanchard and Alma Schrader Elementary also participated in the traditional "running of the halls" event earlier this month, where students are cheered through the schools' hallways by their classmates after their name is called over loudspeakers.

"MAP nights" for parents have already happened at several elementary schools. Jefferson Elementary will host its parent event this week. Parents will visit the school and work on sample MAP questions with their children, said principal Mark Cook. Clippard Elementary hosted an event in March to educate parents on how to help prepare their children for the tests.

At Alma Schrader, aside from an entire week of special days with events for students focusing on MAP preparation, teachers have done what every good teacher should do, said principal Ruth Ann Orr. They taught good test-taking strategies. This approach, she said, like teaching based off curriculum, is ongoing and was not something done last minute. In Missouri's schools, the teaching of the curriculum coupled with teaching test strategies make for a good testing atmosphere, she said.

The skills taught to students emphasize listening to directions, working carefully and neatly, examining the product of work, focusing attention on the task and correcting any incorrect answers, Orr said.

Also emphasized are the timing of the tests. Some districts schedule testing days following a break, as several of the Cape Girardeau elementary schools did this year by having test days this week after students returned from being off Thursday, Friday and Monday. Blanchard students take the math session of MAP tests today.

"Preparation is going to be opportunity when you come to school next week," principal Barbara Kohlfeld told her students during the recent assembly.

School administrators admit a significant amount of time is used to prepare students to do well on MAP tests, but say what is being taught is already in the curriculum, which is tied to state standards.

"We don't mean they teach the test," said the district's curriculum coordinator, Theresa Hinkebein.

Schools must meet proficiency targets as well as other certain requirements to allow districts to make Adequate Yearly Progress under No Child Left Behind. Spelled out in the law is a goal of having 100 percent of students proficient by 2014. That goal, however, may be sidetracked by the state's move to seek a waiver to certain provisions of the law.

If the state is granted a waiver, accountability requirements could look different. A waiver would allow annual testing to stay in place, but allow states to "scrap AYP and design their own differentiated accountability system, with their own student-achievement goals," according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The department officially applied for the waiver in February and is waiting for a response from the U.S. Department of Education. A DESE representative reached Tuesday said there has been no word yet on when the announcement will occur.

Educators, including Hinkebein, say even with the waiver that accountability will still be in place and that side-by-side comparisons of student achievement in each state will be possible through using common core standards, which Missouri has adopted along with 48 other states.

Common core standards will also change how the state tests students in spring 2015, when a test based on the standards will likely replace MAP tests. The Cape Girardeau School District is already moving toward aligning its curriculum with common core standards. Two consortiums are developing the new tests. Hinkebein said there are indicators that all tests will be taken by students online.

Results of MAP tests are released in the summer before the start of the next school year. In 2011, five of 18 districts in Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Perry, Scott and Stoddard counties met all targets for making AYP. Several schools in Cape Girardeau, Jackson and Scott City also met proficiency targets in math and communication arts: Blanchard Elementary in Cape Girardeau; Orchard Drive Elementary and North Elementary in Jackson; and Scott City Elementary.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

614 E. Adams St., Jackson, MO

3000 Main St., Scott City, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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