Rocketship Schools Adopt MAP, a Test Based on Distance Gained in Learning

There are goals, and there are distances. Never should the two be confused, according to one of the newest methods of measuring student progress - a system called MAP (Measures of Academic Progress), created by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA).

Though just beginning to find its feet across the U.S., MAP found a home immediately in the founding of Rocketship Public Schools, a non-profit charter school system that operates in the areas of San Francisco, Milwaukee, Nashville, and Washington, D.C.

What Makes MAP Different?

First, MAP uses a different tool to measure student progress than the standard grade-level assessment, which focuses on student proficiency and whether a student meets the average for his or her grade level in proficiency.

MAP, on the other hand, focuses on how much individual student growth occurs during a school year. Instead of gauging whether the student has reached a benchmark or proficiency level, MAP measures how far the student has travelled in the world of learning—the distance instead of a finish line.

“Proficiency scores are important, but they only tell us if a student is on grade level at a specific point in time. Growth scores, which are also called “value-added” scores, tell us how much a student is learning over a period of time, regardless where they’re starting from,” writes a Rocketship founder, James Robinson, in a Tennessean article.

What is MAP’s Aim

“The purpose of MAP Growth is to determine what the student knows and is ready to learn next,” says Jean Fleming, a former middle school reading teacher who now works for the NWEA.

Fleming adds in an NWEA article that MAP growth “can track students’ individual growth over time— wherever they are starting from and regardless of the grade they are in.”

For instance, she notes in her article, “If a third grader is actually reading like a fifth grader, MAP Growth will be able to identify that. Or, if a fifth grader is doing math like a third grader, MAP Growth will identify that, too. Both things are incredibly important for a teacher to know so that they can plan instruction efficiently.”

Rocketship’s Robinson adds, “Growth matters for all students, but it is especially important for students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds,” which is where most of Rocketship schools are located and to whom Rocketship serves.

How Widely Spread is MAP?

More than 7,400 schools across the globe now implement MAP assessments and the Nashville, Tennessee area, where Rocketship operates three of its schools, is one of the newest adopters.

“At Rocketship Education, we have been using MAP since we opened our first school . . . we applaud Metro Nashville Public Schools . . . for implementing the MAP assessment across Metro Nashville Public Schools,” says Robinson.

Robinson likes to point to Rocketship’s Nashville area school MAP data, from 2016, as one of the reasons for MAP’s growing implementation.

“Last year, 146 of our Rocketeers (Rocketship students) started the year behind and ended the year at or above grade level,” he notes. “That is 146 achievement gaps closed in just one year. Based on our MAP data, our Rocketeers grew on average (by) 1.35 years in math and 1.2 years in reading.”

The Details of Its Application

“Unlike paper and pencil tests, where all students are asked the same questions and spend a fixed amount of time taking the test, MAP Growth is a computer adaptive test,” says NWEA’s Fleming. This means every student gets a unique set of test questions based on responses to previous questions, she explains in her article.

According to Fleming, as the student answers correctly, questions get harder. If the student answers incorrectly, the questions get easier. “By the end of the test, most students will answer about half the questions correctly, as is common on adaptive tests,” says Fleming.

She adds that most students require less than an hour to complete a MAP Growth test, though it is not a timed test; students can take as long as required to complete it. According to Fleming, most schools administer the MAP test at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year. Some will include a summer test session, she notes.

The Test Content

Fleming explains in her NWEA article that not all the same questions are asked on each student’s test sheet, unlike standardized or what NWEA calls “high-stakes” tests.

“When we talk about high-stakes tests, we are usually talking about a test designed to measure what students already know, based on what is expected at their grade level,” she says. “High-stakes tests are often used to measure grade-level proficiency.”

Timing of Test’s Release

Another major difference between MAP and standardized or high-stakes tests lies in the timing of their release.

While states often return information in the fall after the test is taken—which is what much of Tennessee outside of Nashville still does—MAP Growth provides data on results to teachers, administrators, students, and parents immediately, notes Fleming. This helps teachers know what their students are ready to learn in real time, so they can personalize lessons immediately at the appropriate level for the individual student, she adds.

“One similarity is that MAP Growth aligns to the same standards in a given state as the state test, so both measure similar content,” she points out.

Why MAP is So Important

Robinson’s article in the Tennessean tries to explain why MAP is so essential as a test, especially to Rocketship schools.

“National data shows us that many students born into poverty start school behind and never catch up. In Nashville, where the majority of public school students are economically disadvantaged, there’s an achievement gap for every subject tested,” he writes.

“A good public school will close this gap and level the playing field for all students,” says Robinson.

Therefore, MAP advocates such as NWEA and Rocketship insist that educators pay attention to growth—the distance—as well as the destination—grade level.