The MAP test home screen, what a student sees before taking the test. (Photo: Kevin Wei, the Puma Prensa)
By Christian Bon, web editor, Heyman Luong, staff writer, Kevin Wei, staff writer, Rosemary Cromwell, editor, Jon Donohue, editor
In Sep. 2022, the Santa Rosa City Schools District required sites to administer a standardized test called the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) test to track student progress and address holes in student learning, but the overall response has been mixed. Some think that the MAP test took away time from students that could have been spent learning class material and that the money spent on its implementation would have been better spent on school supplies. Others believe that the MAP test is a valuable tool for gauging student progress and needs, or at the very least, an option that cannot hurt.
The MAP test is a standardized test used to measure a student’s learning over time. It is distributed by a not-for-profit organization called NWEA, Northwest Evaluation Association. According to SRCS’s website, its purpose is to use the “information to guide the creation of common assessments as well as unit and lesson design.” However, these benefits come at a significant expense: according to the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) report on the SRCS website, MAP testing may have cost the district up to $440,000 for high schools over a three-year interval. This number was disputed by Executive Director of Educational Services Tim Zalunardo, the district official heading the MAP test rollout, who stated, “I’d have to go back to look at it… but it’s not accurate.”
Although MAP tests were only recently introduced to SRCS, which instituted the tests at the beginning of this school year, other districts have administered them for a while. Maria Carrillo High School’s former library technician, Christa Brown, oversaw MAP tests years ago while teaching in Anchorage, Alaska. According to Brown, students there took MAP tests three times a year since 2016 or 2017.
Brown said that from her experience in Alaska, the MAP test “takes away so much class time,” leaving students “so dead from testing [and that] teachers up there would just rather not take it.” Yet Brown had some positive things to say about the MAP test, calling it “useful if it’s administered the right way,” and she argued that the MAP test can “look at skills within [a teacher’s] class and growth within students, and use that to help them through the year.” Zalunardo agreed with this, saying “it can be used to formatively affect teacher planning [and] help students do better.” Brown also mentioned that MCHS students took the test for the first time relatively late into the year, meaning that “the data doesn’t really get back to you in time to make that really helpful,” an idea contested by Zalunardo.
As is the case with any standardized assessment, if students do not take the MAP test seriously, then its results could be inaccurate, hindering any sort of aid it could provide to teachers. Some students confessed to not supplying their best effort: “I tried my hardest but I didn’t take it seriously,” said junior Krrish Menon; “I didn’t try my hardest on most of the questions,” said sophomore Brennan Hardester; “It feels like a time waster,” said Nell Krombholz, freshman. When asked about the issue, Zalunardo said, “I would encourage students to display their knowledge as best they can. Formative assessments are not supposed to be ‘high stakes.’ They aren’t supposed to majorly impact a student’s grade.” With no incentive nor pressure for students, this risk of half-hearted test takers could lead to inaccurate data.
Brown’s views on the MAP test were generally ambivalent, but some teachers on campus have stronger opinions. For example, English teacher Natasha Deakins believes that “it is ridiculous that [students] are being asked to take the MAP test” and that the test has “zero benefit” because “I guarantee we aren’t using this test” to measure students’ progress or learning. Another English teacher, Maddie Doyle, agreed with Deakins, stating, “I could not see any use for the data I was provided.” Additionally, Doyle said she has “data from students saying [they are] falling behind in class because of that MAP test.”
“I don’t think any sort of standardized test like this is very useful. I just don’t support the purchasing of these tests,” said Doyle.
Teachers were also concerned about the manner in which the tests were introduced, as the district training for teachers given out by NWEA wasn’t received well. Doyle described how “suddenly, we got an email saying that we’re going to need to do [the MAP test] three times, which equates to almost a week’s worth of our curricular time.”
Regarding this email, Brown thought, “Wow, that’s a big thing to start doing without a lot of information. They’re just mentioning it as a side note.” According to Margaret BradyLong, the AP Statistics teacher, the training offered at the year’s first in-service day “felt more like a sales pitch” than training. Honors math teacher Tina Angel and honors English teacher Jordan Henry both concurred. Doyle was personally dissatisfied with the training, saying, “By the end of the training, I didn’t really know how to administer it, nor did I know what the plan was at all.” Zalunardo said in our interview that he was “looking for feedback” from teachers about ways to improve the program. He also explained that there will be future training as the test continues to be rolled out. It remains to be seen whether or not the training will be adjusted to address teachers’ complaints.
More than one member of the MCHS community believes that the money could have been better spent elsewhere. Doyle suggested, “[this money] could pay for adults to be on campus to help keep us safe.” Brown argued that if the district were to “give me a few thousand [then] I’ll buy some books for the library.” Junior Jacob Rosen said, “We could have just spent [the $440k] on materials… A lot of teachers are complaining about the budget being decreased.” And Krrish Menon, also a junior, mentioned that money “could have gone to Chromebooks, it could have gone to better lockers, it could have gone to [a] cleaner environment.”
Despite how controversial the MAP test has been, for the moment it seems it will stay alongside all the other standardized tests currently in use. But as Deakins said, “Students want to know why.”