Local MAP scores not as good as in previous years

Tuesday, October 1, 2002

After several years of steady improvement, the Marshall School District's Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) test scores weren't as good this year.

"For lack of a better word, this year we took a step backward in some areas," Marshall Superintendent of Schools Joe Aull said. "There's no reason to beat around the bush."

The MAP tests, a form of standardized testing given to students across the state, place students' scores into five categories. From lowest to highest these are level 1, progressing, nearing proficient, proficient and advanced. The state's objective is to have all students in the top two categories.

Test scores broken down

Students take the math portion of the tests in fourth, eighth and 10th grades. In the spring of 2001, Marshall students improved their scores at every grade level. In the spring of 2002, only the fourth-grade math scores improved.

The communication arts portion of the MAP test is given to students in the third, seventh and 11th grades. In 2001, third- and 11th-graders at Marshall had improved test scores, but only the junior class increased its scores again this year.

Science proficiency is tested at the third-, seventh- and 11th-grade levels. In the 2000-2001 school year, all three levels improved from the year before, but only the seventh grade continued the trend in 2002.

Students in the fourth, eighth and 11th grades take the MAP's social studies section. Once again, all three grade levels increased in 2001. The fourth grade continued its steady increase to the highest levels of proficiency since the test began, but the eighth and 11th grades both tapered off slightly this past spring.

Reading is tested only in two grade levels: third and seventh. After improving scores for three years in a row, the third grade saw scores stay steady in the spring of this year. The seventh grade continued its up-and-down trend, rebounding nine index points after dropping six in 2001.

All told, the district increased its MAP scores in only five areas for the end of the 2001-02 school year, after having reported higher scores in 12 areas last year and 10 the year before that. Aull pointed out that as the students' scores on the tests become higher it becomes harder to top them each year.

Performance-based expectations

In addition, Aull noted that Marshall's performance is not out of line with other schools in Missouri.

"It seems like we're making progress on the state average in most areas," he said.

To get things moving in the right direction again, the district will have to examine how it goes about teaching its students, Aull said.

"Our people are working hard, there's no doubt about that," he said. "But we're going to have to take a look and consider some new things."

Those new things will include working to help students with the performance-based expectations of the MAP tests. Unlike most standardized tests of the past, the MAP tests do not rely entirely on multiple choice questions. These tests also have a short answer fill-in-the-blank section and another portion that gives students a set of facts or group of data before asking a question and requiring them to derive an answer and show the logical reason behind it.

"It's a new concept and it takes our kids some time to get used to it," Aull said, adding that facing similar situations in the classroom on a regular basis will help the students respond better when they take the MAP tests.

Apples to apples

Aull said the local district is also looking at tracking the progress of individual grade levels. Because students do not take the same test section every year, comparing third grade progress over the years actually looks at the performance of different groups of students.

With five years of testing complete, the district can look at how the same students performed at different grade levels.

For example, students who took the math portion of the MAP test as fourth-graders in 1998 took it again as eighth-graders this year and students who took the science test as seventh-graders in 1999 took it this year as juniors.

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