As the mother rummages through her son’s backpack for his homework and other school letters, she finds a page with tables labeled Mathematics and Reading that is full of numbers. More importantly, her son’s name is at the top along with his elementary school. It certainly looks important and official but what it means is another matter. A score of 195 is reported but there isn’t any indication of whether or not that is good or bad. The mother shrugs and continues going through the rest of her son’s backpack.
Most children who attend elementary school are starting to bring home these mysterious readouts. In most central Kentucky elementary schools, these reports are from the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) testing that occurs three times a year and measures student academic progress in areas like reading, math, science, and social studies. MAP is used by the schools to track student progress and to target interventions at children who might be struggling. It is typically a part of the district’s Response to Intervention (RTI) efforts at Tier I which is the tier that focuses on all students’ academic progress.
MAP is an adaptive test which means that if a child gets a question correct then the next one will be harder. If the child gets a question wrong, then the next one will be easier. This allows a test to be shorter and yet still give a thorough assessment of the student’s skills. While adaptive testing has its advantages it also has its’ drawbacks.
The main drawback is that MAP test scores are confusing and difficult to interpret. Our advice is to skip trying to understand these numbers and instead focus on the student’s percentile range. A percentile is easy to understand as it simply tells where a student compares to 100 other students the same age from around the country. So if a child receives a percentile rank of 45, it means that the child did better than 45 other children out of 100. In general, students who are under the 20th percentile in a particular area are targeted for academic interventions by the school.
MAP also provides a graph of a student’s progress over the past three test administrations and compares it to the progress of other students in the school district. This may be the most helpful information as it can help explain why a student is getting frustrated at school and falling behind.
The next time your child brings home MAP test results, look for the percentile range and the graphs to see how he is doing academically. If you still have questions, request a parent-teacher conference where the teacher can explain in more detail what the results mean. The teacher has access to a lot more information that MAP provides beyond the readout that is sent home.
This article was published in the Richmond Register Health Beat Magazine in December 2012.