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MAP testing in Amherst schools creates 'personalized assessment' of performance amid COVID-19

MAP testing in Amherst schools creates 'personalized assessment' of performance amid COVID-19

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As a way to determine the amount of learning loss Amherst County Public Schools students experienced during a roughly six-month break from school because of COVID-19, the division has implemented MAP testing for grades K-11 in the areas of reading and math.

MAP testing adjusts to each student’s performance and creates a personalized assessment experience that measures performance whether a student performs on, above or below a grade level, according to school officials. It provides teachers with easy-to-use reports to help determine where students are performing.

The assessment replaces the benchmark testing that was conducted annually in the school system, Superintendent Rob Arnold said during the Amherst County School Board’s Nov. 12 meeting.

“Our goal in Amherst has been since closures in March to evaluate the impact of the pandemic on student learning and establish a new baseline for measuring student growth and fill those gaps,” said Dana Norman, director of academics.

Arnold said the data shows Amherst students have not fallen way behind during the lengthy break between school years because of the pandemic.

“Our students have shown up this year on par with their peers across the country,” Arnold said.

If given and used effectively, the MAP testing will positively affect making up the deficits from learning loss due to COVID-19, a report Norman gave to the board states.

ACPS has chosen to do MAP assessment to measure students’ growth and will fill in the gaps of instruction over the next several years, said Norman.

“I’m a strong proponent of measuring success based on student growth,” Superintendent Rob Arnold said. “[Standards of Learning] tests do not measure growth. They can’t. They are criteria-based tests and they don’t have the ability to show where a student started and where they end up.”

Amherst schools are trying to get to a place of learning where kids are where they need to go as far as learning, he said.

“The results from these can give us some information about how well they may do on the SOL tests,” Arnold said. “The SOLs are criteria-referenced tests, which show mastery of material. It doesn’t extend beyond knowing the information or ask you to apply the information. The goal is to improve that ability for our students.”

Amherst schools closed March 13 because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down all Virginia’s schools; they returned to in-person learning Sept. 9 while also offering the Amherst Remote Academy for those who opted to stay at home.

The question for educators with such a long break is if students still have the ability to learn on their grade level moving forward, Arnold said.

“I can’t tell you how valuable it is with face-to-face instruction,” Norman told the board during its Nov. 12 meeting.

She said while many families have opted to stay remote the division’s educators have worked hard to close the gap through the Amherst Remote Academy, which has just more than 1,500 students.

“They have stepped up to the plate,” Norman said in praising the ARA’s teachers. “These are people who never thought about doing remote learning and they are going above and beyond. I’m very proud of the accomplishments we’ve been able to make.”

Board member John Grieser said one positive from the highly challenging year is the student-to-teacher ratios with smaller class sizes are beneficial for students and families.

The MAP Growth program provides students with a score for reading and/or math each time the assessment is taken, which is two to three times a year, according to a report given to the board. The score accurately measures performance, similar to marking a height or growth chart over time and represents a point on a continuous scale of learning, according to the report.

“We know it’s going to take time for staff to wrap their head around what they can do with this data,” Norman said.

Board member David Cassise spoke favorably of the MAP testing practice and the information it brings.

“I love this kind of data,” Cassise said. “That’s going to be exciting.”

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