Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) testing may be the most feared exam taken in our schools. Educational institutions that fall short of standards set by the state are graced with "help," equating to less control for local school districts and teachers. The most affected by MAP testing are four percent of the students, divided evenly between gifted students and those with special needs. Administrators try to send positive reinforcement telling teachers to, "try their best" harmonized with lengthy meetings on the implications of statistical analysis showing strengths and weaknesses within the classroom.
Branson Intermediate School has developed a program that Principal Susan Bell credits special needs teacher Tracy Hall with creating. "We're a data driven school," says Bell, and shortcomings among the challenged category of students are shared with teachers whose primary function is to shepherd students with disabilities. The program is called MAP Café and special needs students are greeted with hot cocoa and donuts as easement into focused study. State released MAP exam questions from years past are used to prepare students for this years test. MAP Café's modified learning environment is working. Noted improvements from special needs students may lay groundwork for similar programs being introduced as part of the regular curriculum. MAP Café requires students to take the training wheels off and stand in line with other students their age regardless of the diversity of their challenges.
Overachievers, those students whose intellect, capacity and drive to perform already sets them aside from the crowd have additional pressure applied as school officials attempt to adjust the curve. A local Springfield blogger tells a story about a fifth grade student who wants to quit her gifted program, "She's afraid that …she'll not be prepared for the test. This is a child who is gifted--and motivated. She wants to do well, and she's clearly gotten the message that the results of the MAP tests are the most important part of her school year." (Source: http://elmoscloset.blogspot.com)
On the other side of the equation sits high school students who are all too well aware that test results will have no effect on their grades. The lack of motivation has been blamed for flat test scores leading to legislation eliminating MAP testing in exchange for standardized final exams. Testing will relate to specific courses and count as a substantial part of student grades. For instance, an Algebra 1 final assessment will be the same statewide, standardizing course requirements and a definition of what short course descriptions mean.
Special needs students give administration officials numerous concerns. Catering to students specific needs are not an option for a majority of challenged students. A very narrow segment qualifies for MAP A or an alternative measurement. Only the most severely disabled students qualify. The mark these students have to meet is defined by specialists whose standards are approved after vigorous processes between the educator and state bureaucracy..
Students with special needs often provide school officials with the greatest amount of pressure. Children whose reading level may fall two grades below their age group are measured by the same standard as other children their age. Though these students have altered curriculums where teachers can meet student's special needs, standardized testing prohibits special rules.
In a recent interview State Representative Maynard Wallace wouldn't comment on the issue of testing students with special needs; however, he had a lot to say about MAP testing in general, "Overemphasized, tremendously overemphasized…..We don't teach some of the things we taught 20 years ago that are good for kids…A good teacher who has spent nine months in the classroom with a student knows if he student is ready for the next grade level"
Wise teachers identify student's special needs whether or not they're categorically defined. But, if the state has already determined that a child meets the definition of educationally challenged, standardized testing appears an overt contradiction. If overall funding requires square pegs fitting into round holes, we should anticipate more children will be left behind.
This is the article as printed in the form submitted to the Branson Daily Independent. The editor and I disagreed over the headline and it could have been changed. I had to leave before I saw the final copy.
I leaned the story in support of our local school teachers; but the last part could have been altered. If the pressure of MAP testing results in education innovation this could be a good thing right? I had the opportunity to teach an LD class this week at the Branson School District. It was a great experience and in some ways startling. There are a lot of stories but if one word is allocated to sum up the experience....inspiring..