Understanding MAP Scores

Understanding MAP Scores

By understanding Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) scores, parents can be better equipped to provide support to their children throughout the school year. We spoke with several experts to find out more about the assessments and how parents, teachers and administrators can work together to benefit each child. 

According to Nate Jensen, director of the Center for School and Student Progress at Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), MAP Growth assessments are adaptive assessments that measure student achievement and growth in mathematics, reading, language usage and science. These assessments can be administered multiple times throughout the year (typically fall, winter and spring) and can be used to track student progress over time, both within and across school years.

Jensen says the goal of an adaptive test — which adjusts the difficulty of items a student sees based on if the student answers correctly or not — is to provide test items to students at a level commensurate with their achievement level and allow them to best demonstrate what they know and have learned.

Because the test is tailored to students, the results are “highly valid and reliable” estimates of student achievement levels, Jensen says. 

“This adaptive process helps us to find the balance between what students know and what they don’t know,” he says, “which is useful for teachers in understanding what concepts and content areas students are currently ready to learn, what needs to be reinforced and what students are ready to learn next.” 

However, not all schools are using the MAP assessment. Some area schools use alternative assessment and growth measures like iReady, which is used, for example, by Hudson City Schools and Chagrin Falls Exempted Village Schools. 


Interpreting Results

MAP Growth results can be used when making decisions about the instructional and aspirational needs and goals of individual students, Jensen says. 

For example, a teacher can differentiate classroom instruction to meet the needs of students who may be struggling in a certain area or for those students who are high-achieving but need to continue to be challenged.

NWEA has launched a new Family Report to help teachers have conversations with families about how their child is performing and growing. The report leverages MAP Growth data to illustrate achievement and growth in the subject areas tested, such as math, reading and science. The Family Report will be a helpful tool for teachers during school conferences with families, and for students to help them understand their performance and set goals. 

“These projections can also be the starting point for a conversation with a student about his or her goals and aspirations, and can lead to a deep dive into what steps both the teacher and student need to take to make sure the goals that are set are both meaningful and attainable,” Jensen says.  


Assessing Growth

LaTisha Grimes, executive director of assessments, testing and logistics for Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), says that when students finish their MAP Growth test, they receive a number called a RIT score for each area in which they are tested (reading, language usage, math or science). This score can help gauge a student’s pace and progress.

“This score represents a student’s achievement level at any given moment and helps measure their academic growth over time,” she says. “The RIT scale is a stable scale, like feet and inches, that accurately measures student performance, regardless of age, grades or grade level. Like marking height on a growth chart and being able to see how tall your child is at various points in time, you can also see how much they have grown between tests.”

Grimes says the purpose of MAP Growth is to determine what the student knows and is ready to learn next. MAP Growth can track students’ individual growth over time — wherever they are starting from and regardless of the grade they are in. 

“For instance, if a second grader is actually reading like a sixth grader, MAP Growth will be able to identify that. Or, if a sixth grader is doing math like a second grader, MAP Growth will identify that, too,” Grimes says. “Both things are incredibly important for a teacher to know so that they can plan instruction efficiently.”

Christopher Broughton, Ph.D., executive director of data and accountability for Cleveland Metropolitan School District, says about 28,000 students annually take the test district-wide. 

“What we’re seeing on state scores is pretty aligned with the NWEA (MAP Growth), and we know where the students are going to end up landing,” Broughton says. “Now, as far as the various grade levels, in our district, overall, we’ve been showing slight improvements each year.

 “Where we do see (more significant growth) trends is within the year,” he continues. “During the year, however a student scores in the fall, they do show improvement at the end of the year. There’s a lot of that kind of improvement at all schools.”

As of this year, CMSD administers the test to grades first through 10th in the fall and winter. Second- and third-graders will take the test in the fall, winter and spring. Summer testing is available for students who need additional assistance with their learning. 

MAP Growth tests include multiple choice, drag and drop, and other types of questions.

Grimes says there are a number of common questions parents ask about MAP, including what the test measures and what can be learned from it, how often it’s administered and strategies to help students improve. 

Grimes says one great place to start the dialogue is with the MAP Growth Student Profile report. The Student Profile report shows how the student did compared to national norms and projected proficiency on state summative tests. 

“Just as a doctor has a chart indicating the most common heights and weights of people at certain ages, NWEA has put together charts showing the median RIT scores for students at various grade levels,” Grimes says. “NWEA researchers examined the scores of millions of students to find the average scores for students in various grades.”

 It also highlights the instructional areas that represent the greatest opportunities for each student, so they can set and track growth goals going forward. For students and families interested in working toward growth goals over the summer, it provides specific instructional areas for which the student is ready.


Scores and Readiness

According to Jensen, MAP Growth results also can be used to predict proficiency on a state’s end-of-year summative test, or predict performance on measures of college readiness (ACT/SAT). Using the latter information, a parent or teacher can use NWEA’s College Explorer tool to help a student see how his or her RIT score compares with the average student who gets accepted into colleges and universities across the country.


Helping Your Kids

Parents can use the teacher’s feedback regarding the Parent Report’s strengths and areas of improvement given during student conferences, Grimes says. Parents also can continue to work at home with the child by utilizing Khan Academy and/or any other supplemental resources the teacher may have presented. Parents should always ask questions and be an active partner in their child’s learning process. 

“Parents can use the resource of our ‘Academic Playbook — A Publication for CMSD Families’ created by our Family and Community Engagement Department within CMSD to assist parents on navigating their student through the year and the assessment process,” Grimes says. 

Parents also can access short sample tests at warmup.nwea.org.

Communication and trust are key to fostering student success, according to Grimes. Some teachers are always discovering ways to create meaningful parent-teacher relationships — from opening a clear channel of communication with their household to drawing parents into the school community through events and programs, such as text messaging, weekly notes, reminder apps and Google Docs.

She adds it’s important to note that growth scores are just one data point teachers use to determine how a student is performing. Grimes also encourages parents to discuss any questions they have about a child’s performance with the child’s teacher.

“When I talk to parents and teachers, I talk about how important it is that parents and teachers support each other, and help the child,” says Dr. Sylvia Rimm, of Menlo Park Academy. 

Rimm, a practicing psychologist specializing in gifted children, spends one day a week at the school. Previously, Rimm was a contributing correspondent to NBC’s “Today” show.

“What the attempt is, is to clearly measure children’s progress and the academic requirements of the school,” Rimm says. “The purpose is to measure growth, and that’s what parents are looking for.” 

Although it’s not an exact science, she says from the parents’ perspective it becomes very important for them to look over the results to see what the child is doing and that there’s a reasonable consistency in the growth. 

“It’s also important for them not to overreact if somehow the growth isn’t there, but to ask questions,” Rimm says. 

If the growth is not there — for example, if there was a projected growth of 15 RITs and the actual growth was 13 — that would be nothing to worry about. 

“However, if there was projected growth of 15 and the child’s actual growth was only five, then you would ask, ‘what happened?’ and the ‘what happened?’ could be many different things,” she says. 

Rimm explains it could be that the child didn’t understand the material. It could be that the child is so far ahead, they were totally bored. Or it could be that the child felt so unchallenged, they just couldn’t follow it.

“There’s so many possible interpretations of when there’s negative growth,” Rimm says. “When there’s positive growth, there could be many interpretations, too. (If) the child actually grew as much as projected, or even more, you could say, ‘well, the child is really excited about this,’ or ‘the child needs more challenges,’ or ‘this is easy.’” 

There are a lot of different ways that the growth can be projected, she says, but once a  parent understands their own child and gets the pattern over the years, they can get the idea when something goes wrong.

“If there is a problem, they can’t just say it’s the teachers fault, or if the child says it’s boring, just accept it,” she says. “They have to really get underneath what’s gone wrong. That would be a time to set up a parent/teacher conference to get a better feel of what might be happening.” 

The key issue for parents is to emphasize reasonable growth, because kids have all kinds of abilities, according to Rimm.

“We don’t expect everybody to be at the 95th percentile,” she says. “Some kids will be at the 50th percentile, but if they keep that 50th percentile, you know they are making the growth that fits with their abilities.”



MAP Growth Stats (From NWEA) 

  • 172 partners use MAP Growth in the Cleveland metro area (both public and private schools)
  • 10.2 million students nationwide: 47,500 regular school districts; 1,200 charter schools; 1,300 Catholic schools; and approximately 2,500 schools that are independent/not affiliated with a public school district, charter or Catholic church

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