As I proctor my students taking the NWEA Science MAP test, I notice blank stares at the screens. Students are slowly absorbing the random test questions. Trying to put the words into a context, thinking back through classroom experiences. Attempting to find the correct answer. We have been studying severe weather events in class. Now the students are being bombarded by questions from physics to biology to geology. Some of the questions hit directly on units covered in our classroom, others were studied in previous years and some of the material has not been taught to my students yet (In curriculum for 8th Grade). I wonder: Will the results show that students grew their science knowledge? Are my teaching methods preparing my students for this type of assessment? Is this assessment meaningful for my students?

As the results come in I find that 72% of my students hit their NWEA Projected Growth Targets. Well that doesn’t seem bad. 7 out of 10 students in my class would hit the expected growth. But did my instruction garner these results? and Why do I feel the 72% should be higher? These are the hard questions to answer. I feel that many of the questions I observe from over the shoulder of a student taking a test are disconnected from my teaching. From the random sample observed, I did notice a few questions that go directly with our instruction. Many of the questions were totally disconnected from any of the units taught this year in seventh grade. If my students correctly answered these questions the credit should go to them, not my teaching since it was never covered in my class. 72% seems low because it is a C on most grading scales, I feel I am better than a C teacher. How can any test measure the effectiveness of teaching when it is not directly connected to the content taught in class? MAP does seem to measure a student’s ability in a subject matter and their growth over time. This could be tied to teaching but mainly is students learning ability.

I teach the way I have been trained. I teach units. Ideas are introduced with global experiences. Lessons are organized so students can learn related ideas together. This method allows students to make connections in their learning. Ideas seem to flow together naturally. Light and sound are taught together in a unit on wave energy. Cells are studied at the same time as genetics and plants. Students like the flow and can dive deeply into content with the connections. Standardized tests seem to forget this concept. Questions jump all over the place. The questions have no context or connections for the students to anchor their understanding. Simple reason why Jay Leno’s segments of “Jay Walking” are so funny and popular.

Should I change my teaching to be more random? It might help students think before jumping at the first thought that enters their mind.

My students hate the MAP test. They feel it is a waste of time. Many commented about how they had no clue on how to answer certain questions. Some felt frustrated during the test and gave up on trying when they encountered questions that had content that was never taught to them. Are these test necessary? Aren’t there better ways to show students are learning?

When we really look at the data what story does it tell?