Peter Fiddner, a sixth grade math teacher at Burley Middle School, works with students. Fiddner praised the Measures of Academic Progress Test for it's focus on student growth. Credit: Credit: Albemarle County Public Schools

Since the 2001 renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act — commonly known as No Child Left Behind — many parents, teachers and school division officials have decried the amount of mandated standardized testing to which students are exposed. But over the last few weeks, many students in Charlottesville and Albemarle County have taken a standardized test that the divisions are not required to give.

While administering this test decreases the amount of instructional time students receive, one reason local educators have said they support the Measures of Academic Progress test is that it promotes learning and growth in the classroom.

“MAP results aren’t just a score on a piece of paper, they give us a strategy for that student to make a year or more of progress,” said Vernon Bock, principal of Charlottesville’s Walker Upper Elementary School. “But the SOL tests are given at the end of the year, and when we get the data back, those kids have already moved on.”

Given yearly to second through 12th grade students in Charlottesville, and middle school students in Albemarle, the MAP test focuses on reading, language usage and math, and is computer adaptive, meaning that its level of difficulty changes question to question, depending on how a student performs.

In addition to the test’s model of tailoring itself to a student’s knowledge, Bock said the student-specific data provided to teachers allows them to identify skills a student isn’t grasping, and offers teaching strategies to reinforce the content.

“It shows us not only where the students are, but also what they need,” Bock said. “It gives you a road map, and in some cases you have to go back and shore up a concept he or she didn’t mesh with in fourth grade.”

For example, Peter Fiddner, who teaches sixth-grade math at Albemarle’s Burley Middle School, said the data lets him see if a particular student is struggling with number sense, algebraic equations or geometry.

“It’s a more detailed analysis that benchmarks the student within the class and within each strand of math or English, so we can gear some of our extra practice or time into building that concept into pre-teaching,” he said.

Fiddner said he also appreciates that the assessment is ongoing, which provides for longitudinal data that he uses to engage students. The test is administered three times — at the start, mid-point and end of a school year.

“The first test doesn’t mean as much to the students, but after taking the second and third test they see their growth over the year,” Fiddner said, noting that that is particularly engaging for his most advanced students, who grow accustomed to earning a 100 percent and receiving little feedback.

And it’s the emphasis on growth that both Fiddner and Bock say is, in general, missing from Virginia’s Standards of Learning exams.

“While we work on grade-level expectations and goals in the classroom, and while a student might have just barely failed an SOL test, that student might have made three years of progress in one school year,” Fiddner said, emphasizing that some students simply start the school year below grade level.

That said, Fiddner did praise last year’s sixth grade math SOL for piloting an adaptive test, like MAP, and said his below-grade-level students’ performance improved.

As for Bock, who has administered the MAP test for nine years, the growth-oriented, data-rich assessment is a high-quality educational product.

“In the years that I was at Johnson Elementary School, we transformed it into a pretty high-achieving school, and I attribute some of that to using MAP to drive instruction,” he said.