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At the District 65 School Board’s May 6 meeting, District administrators said that all schools were required to administer the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test in the winter of the 2018-19 school year, in addition to in the fall and the spring. The requirement will continue going forward. Previously, each school had the option of giving the MAP test in the winter.

The change is part of an effort to fully implement a “data-driven learning environment” in the schools. Under this approach, principals, teachers and staff will use MAP data to see where students are doing well and where they need assistance and to use that information in forming instruction to improve student achievement.

The goal is to help teachers “hone in on students’ areas of strengths and areas for improvement while integrating insights into their teaching practices including how they differentiate instruction, how they group students for re-teaching skills or concepts, and how they provide accelerated learning opportunities for students in areas of strength,” said a memorandum presented to the Board by Paul Goren, Superintendent, LaTarsha Green, Executive Director of Black Student Success, and Andalib Khelghati, Assistant Superintendent of Schools.

In addition, giving the MAP test in the winter provides school administrators and school improvement teams with data to evaluate progress toward meeting goals in the middle of the year. They can determine if instructional practices are having the desired effect and make changes, if necessary, in the middle of the school year, says the memo.

Under what is called a “practice change,” school leaders will be required to fully implement a “data-driven learning environment” in their schools by the start of the next school year. They will be required to do so in a way that is “relevant and meaningful” for their particular schools.  

This change is part of the District’s effort to improve achievement results for Black and Latinx students in the District. The memo cites a book by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, that concludes, “When conducted properly, using data to inform teaching practice is one of the most effective ways to help students achieve success.”

Administrators’ Rationale 

Dr. Goren said that by giving the MAP test in the winter, schools will be able to see how students are doing in the middle of the school year and “to make a mid-course correction.” In addition, he said, schools will be able to use that data “to inform the planning process for the following year at an earlier stage.”

Dr. Khelghati said last spring’s MAP test scores highlighted the need for all of the schools to focus on improving Black students’ achievement.

On those tests, the percentage of Black and Latinx students who met college readiness benchmarks in reading was 32% and 35% respectively, compared to 82% of White students. In math, 21% of Black students, 36% of Latinx students, and 79% of White students met college readiness benchmarks.

The Winter MAP test is “a dip stick,” Dr. Khelghati said. “It’s an opportunity for us to look at a formative assessment and to really get data conversations happening with teachers, and to help school improvement teams to look at plans for the year and make adjustments.” He said the District held two workshops with principals in January. 

Dr. Green said a standardized assessment like MAP can be used to “really help change instructional practices.” She said the winter MAP test can be used in “determining what practices we should continue, which things are not yet netting the kind of results we want to see, and what are some things that we might want to start doing.”

“In my experience,” Dr. Green said, “attacking the achievement gap is largely done through data-informed practices.”

She said the January workshops provided principals with ways to discuss MAP data with staff and provided some examples of ways principals could be “very strategic and target conversations with classroom teachers about specific groups of students and their achievement.” 

The memo highlighted some “outstanding practices” already being used in the schools. For example, in some schools, teachers, social workers and school administrators review data on a weekly basis and use it to revise intervention plans for students not meeting benchmarks; in some schools teachers discuss instructional practices that have seen strong growth and accelerated outcomes for students; in some schools, “gap-closing” teachers present successful strategies to other teachers.

Board Discussion

Board member Candance Chow said, “It impresses me that this is something that has to be part of our DNA as a District. … I feel like in some ways – and this is as much us as it is also in our community – that we’re kind of half-pregnant on whether we think data is good or bad to use with instruction, and I don’t think we can be half-pregnant on this.

“I think we have to come down and have one voice as a Board on how we’re going.”

Dr. Green said, “I agree. What I’ve observed is that by requesting holistic views around student achievement – ideally I really support that belief – but, I center my work around college and career opportunities for children, post-secondary.

“And until the larger system embraces that as an adequate measure of who a child is, I feel like it’s my moral obligation to make sure that under the constraints that are given, we are providing teachers and students the opportunity to be critical consumers and show their best selves in terms of what they know and what they have learned. So I, too, wonder what’s the delicate balance with that, because it’s quite frankly and somewhat flippantly, I can’t get into Harvard with a portfolio. There is a point of time when, even if I want to get in the armed forces there’s an assessment I need to take.”

Ms. Chow asked, “What do we have to do, what do we have to stop doing so we can make space for this work which I think is one of the most important things that we can do? I want to know what we need to do to make this successful.”

Dr. Goren said his team is working on ways “to keenly focus on the things that can drive the type of changes that will lead to better success for our kids.”

Kylie Klein, Director of Research, Accountability, and Data, said school leaders “are employing world class incredible practices in their schools … We need to elevate those practices.”

She added that if students are informed where they have strengths and where they have areas for growth, they can take agency over their own learning and be engaged and active participants in leading their learning, such as by asking teachers for more support or assistance. “And that can happen at all ages,” she said.

Board Vice President Anya Tanyavutti said, “I appreciate the high standards that you spoke of, Dr. Green. I think that it’s important for us to have high expectations, because we ourselves and children cannot meet standards and expectations that aren’t there. I think that’s part of our investment in their aptitude is to have high expectations for what they can accomplish.

Ms. Tanyavutti added, “I can see the value in including students in the conversation about their growth.” She added, though, that if this is done, it should be done by people who have a trusted relationship with students and who believe students can achieve high expectations.

Dr. Khelghati said a priority going forward is to really understand and keep a laser-like focus on the District’s learning standards and the common core State standards and to understand what is quality instruction in that context. “We have to do that, and it will help us to do formative assessment much more effectively,” he said.

Dr. Green said, “This is challenging work. … I think that having objective measures while we are working on our implicit bias, and while we are working on our own understanding of the role of Whiteness in all of us, is a great equalizer. While I wouldn’t necessarily say that the standards work isn’t present within our curriculum and in our work, I think there is definitely a deepening of what it means for high expectations and cognitive rigor when it doesn’t show up as traditionally as you might expect it. And that is a learning shift for adults as well.

“It’s challenging people at the core. There’s basically some absolute obstacles that we face as a large community around standards and instructional practices and what ‘equity’ essentially means. The notion of giving people their equal share is one we all celebrate. I’m not sure people are registering that it requires hard decisions about what to remove, because [of financial constraints]. I’m not sure we’re all on the same page about this.”

Ms. Tanyavutti asked what is the plan to address this before the end of the year. “I’m looking for that proposal,” she said.

Dr. Goren said, “We have to be teaching towards grade-level expectations and grade-level expectations have to be at the highest level, and all kids have to have access, and these data tell us that all students don’t.” He said one important thing is that school improvement teams need to set goals and a plan for next year.

Dr. Green said, “Candance said something that hit the nail on the head. Data is not the be-all and end-all, but it is information, and we have to become much more savvy in using information to be strategic,” and “to empower us to do what is in the best interest of children.

 “We can absolutely deploy resources and reallocate things, which I don’t think is off the table to do, because you have to look at doing something different, but we all know that’s a firestorm, too. And are we all prepared to address that firestorm when it comes.”

Ms. Tanyavutti said, “I think we are prepared. We need the proposal to support.”

Board member Sergio Hernandez said, “At the end of the day we keep on going back to this data, and actually for me it perpetuates some of this inequity and the way we view Black and Brown children. It’s not enough.  And I’ve had enough of that.

“I get it, we need the data.” But he added that the data also shows we need more social workers, or more psychologists, or parents need a job

“We continue doing isolated work and perpetuating the inequity because we are failing to address the issues that these data keep telling us over and over and over again. What these data keep telling us is that those who have access to time, who have the money, have access to opportunities, are the ones who are going to do really great on tests and everybody else gets 40th or 50th percentile.

“Some of my questions, instead of ‘What are we going to pull away?’ are ‘How can we work cohesively with the partners to move forward to provide opportunities and the supports that families and students need to get them to where they need to be to meet those high expectations we want for all of our kids?’”

Dr. Goren said one access point is high-quality instruction for every student. While he said he embraced broad community partnerships, he said, “We are responsible for instruction in the classroom, and I don’t think all of our kids are getting the level of instruction they should get to be able to succeed.”

Board President Suni Kartha said she challenged the notion that it is an all-or-nothing – that it is standardized tests or nothing else and it is the only thing the District can focus on. “I agree we have to focus on this because this is the reality of the world we live in.” But she added that the District has invested a lot  in social and emotional learning, because “we believe that’s ultimately what makes kids successful and lifelong learners.”

She said, “As we are continuing to work in this White supremacist system that says we have to do these standardized tests – which by the way we know are intrinsically racist – that while we have to continue with that system because it’s a system we live in, why can’t we also create some sort of more holistic metric of what students bring to the table, so that we can provide another narrative? … So students know that they are more than a deficient test score. So families know that their students  can be celebrated. So the community knows Black and Brown students are not just the low end of the achievement gap.”

She added, though, she would not urge the District to abandon standardized tests.

The 2018 District 65 Achievement Report said that NWEA, the owner of the MAP test, says it convened bias and sensitivity panels in an attempt to eliminate racial bias in the test. The report adds that it is possible some bias may persist in the measurement.

Board member Rebeca Mendoza said, “I appreciate the emphasis on data,” but she added there could be better communication with the community to help them understand what the scores mean, and to making parents partners.

Board member Joey Hailpern said, “I just feel like this is where school leaders have to carry the burden of story-teller for each building.” He said the school leaders are in the best position to provide specific data concerning achievement in their schools to the community.

Ms. Mendoza said she would welcome feedback from the administration on what the District needs to give up to do this work well.