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Testing shows growth in reading, math

This week, teachers and administrators will be studying the numbers together -- meeting in workshops to discuss how to use students' test results to shape classroom teaching.

They'll use results from MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) computer tests, which show degrees of growth for individual students and by grade level, according to information given at a school board workshop on Aug. 6 by district Director of Assessment and Instruction Rick Spicuzza.

MAP scores in reading at the end of this past school year show improvement in grades three through nine over 2008.

Math scores show the same pattern with a slight dip in eighth-grade scores. "We've elevated overall," Spicuzza said.

When 833 scores are compared to average scores across the country, it's in the 80th percentile. Half the kids in the country hit the 50th percentile, he told school board members. 

Tests are given by computer in fall, winter and spring and take from 45 to 50 minutes to complete.

If students correctly answer questions, the degree of difficulty goes up. If they struggle, questions go down. The results zero in on areas where they are achieving and those where they need help.

"You learn just as much about what they don't know as they know," Spicuzza said.

Test results, which teachers get the next day, show weaknesses and strengths. A student might score high in geometry, for example, and low in number sense. A low score in number sense shows the student is having trouble deciding whether 50 yards is smaller or larger than 300 feet.

The tests allow us to group students by level of comprehension so teachers can concentrate on needed areas, Spicuzza said.

The MAP measure of achievement starts at 190 in second grade and goes up to 260 with 230 considered "college ready," according to Spicuzza.

In fourth-grade reading district-wide in 2009, students scored 214 with 66 percent achieving a 2 percent growth in test scores over the previous year.

Test results allow Spicuzza to compare fourth-grade scores to how well that class does in fifth-grade, for example.

"Each grade level is a little different," he said.

MCA tests, which are different and harder each year, offer comparisons between last year's fourth-graders to this year's fourth-graders, a different group of kids.

Last year's seventh-grade class was "stellar," Spicuzza said, in achieving a 3 percent growth in MAP reading scores over its sixth-grade scores and 4 percent increase in math.

There appears to be no single reason why the soon-to-be eighth-graders are performing so well, he said, "but the grade behind them is catching up."

This year's eighth-graders might just be a "blip," he said. If other classes start to show the same upward trend, it might mean that teaching methods that zero in on filling the gaps are working.

MAP scores show teachers where their incoming classes are at in terms of achievement.

"If you have a grade coming in at 227, then you start teaching at 227," he said.

Each state has its own version of Minnesota's Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests and there is as yet no national test, Spicuzza said, but many school districts across the country are using MAP tests for many reasons including that results are available the next day. MCA results come after the school year ends and are sent to students' families in August.

There is an in-district "data warehouse" where student information can be accessed by teachers.

More online: For more information on all district and state tests go to the district's Web site at On the home page, pull down "departments" and click on "Research, Evaluation and Assessment." After it comes up on the screen, go the pull-down menu on the right hand side.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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