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Even after school has been let out for the summer, the debate about whether or not today’s school kids take too many standardized tests continues among Fluvanna’s educators.
“The majority of calls I get from teachers are about testing,” said school board member Carol Tracy Carr.
In a data driven era, standardized exams are used to evaluate student progress and teacher effectiveness. Fluvanna students are taking far more than just the Standards of Learning (SOL) exam each year. Throughout the year they also sit three times for the Measurement of Academic Progress (MAP) tests, twice for the Interactive Achievement test, and K-3 students take the PALs exam to evaluate reading skills. These standardized tests are all in addition to the regular run-of-the-mill spelling tests and pop quizzes.
Since SOLs are a state mandate, most Fluvanna teachers see them as a necessary evil. It’s the MAP test they take umbrage with. MAP testing is being used in more than 5,000 school districts across the country, but has been criticized in just as many. Critics don’t like its use in teacher evaluation, especially since the test is not tied to one grade level. Originally designed by research directors (not teachers), MAP is designed to measure students’ academic level, independent of their age or year in school. That means that a third grader could be looking at a question about algebra or Shakespeare.
Fluvanna Public Schools defends the use of MAP as a way to assess whether students are ready for the SOLs.
“The state requires that we do universal screening. It’s one of the reasons why MAP is done three times a year. It lets you know if students are on track and prepared to pass the SOLs,” said Director of Testing and Accountability for Fluvanna County Public Schools James Mathieson. “It’s a very solid, very well backed assessment, based off of the results of nearly 5 million children. It’s aligned with SOLs, but not directly driven by the SOLs.”
Third grade teacher Angela Davis disagrees. She thinks MAP is harmful, if anything, to SOL scores.
“This is a test that is being used only for evaluating teachers, it has no benefit to students, and leaves us with no time to focus on SOLs. It’s a waste of valuable instructional time,” said Davis.
Bridgette Madison, a mother of four Fluvanna school children, agrees with Davis.
“One of my daughters is in second grade and took PALs and MAP. On one test it said she was above her grade level on reading and on the other it said she was below. The testing doesn’t work together,” said Madison to the Fluvanna County Public School Board on Wednesday (June 13). “The teachers do know these students, and I think you need to work with them to get to a better place for the students.”
Fluvanna Education Association (FEA), who represents Fluvanna’s teachers, have offered other ways to assess teachers and SOL readiness than making students take tests where they won’t know the majority of the answers.
“Teachers are willing to step up and craft an instrument that we can use for student growth. We feel it would be more fair to our students and less stressful for our students,” said Perri Johnson, co-president of the FEA.
Yet, for now, it looks like little will change for next year. Fluvanna Public Schools Superintendent Gena Keller believes all of the tests are still needed to identify struggling students and their needs.
“It’s important for us to look at the gains we made. It’s also important to look at the children, by name, who are not getting what they need,” said Keller. “It’s no different than a good medical team, you triage and you offer supplemental help that’s culturally sensitive.”