One goal of the District 65 School Board is to increase the percentage of its students who meet benchmarks that indicate a student is on track to college and career readiness. The benchmarks were identified by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) for the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test in a 2015 study “MAP College Readiness Benchmarks.” NWEA is the owner of the MAP test.*

District 65’s 2018 student achievement report shows that the following percentages of students did not meet NWEA’s benchmarks in reading on the 2018 MAP test: 68% of black students, 65% of Latinx students, and 18% of white students. The data is similar for math.

Another goal of the District is to increase the percentage of its students who meet the annual growth targets set by NWEA for the MAP test. Under NWEA’s model, the growth that a student needs to achieve to meet their growth target in a school year is conceptually the average growth of all students in the nation who are in the same grade and who started out the year at the same achievement level.

There is a disconnect in the way District 65 measures progress in meeting these two goals. The first goal is to increase the percentage of students who are on track to college readiness – which requires an acceleration of growth for many students, particularly black and Latinx students. As just noted, almost two-thirds of black and Latinx students are not meeting the goal.

The second goal is that students meet NWEA’s growth targets from year to year – which does not require that students accelerate their growth. Students may meet their growth targets each year and make no progress toward being on track to college readiness at the end of eighth grade. In fact, they may fall further behind.

NWEA’s Growth Model

In 2015, NWEA conducted a Norm Study. The study was based on a random sample of student test records and a post-stratification adjustment using “population weights.”**

In that study, NWEA determined the average amount that students in the nation grew between a MAP pre-test and a MAP post-test in reading, math and other subjects. It did this by grade level, and by the starting achievement level of students in each grade. The data is provided in tables contained in Appendix D of the study.

For example, in its 2015 Norm Study, NWEA determined the average growth of sixth graders in reading who had a RIT score of 220 in reading on the Spring MAP test toward the end of fifth grade. Between the Spring MAP test in fifth grade and the Spring MAP test in sixth grade, the average amount of growth (or increase in RIT scores) was 4.88 RIT points for this group of students. Under NWEA’s model, 4.88 RIT points becomes the growth target for sixth graders who scored a 220 in reading on the Spring MAP test as fifth graders. 

Under NWEA’s model, the expected growth is thus the average growth of students who are in the same grade and started out the year at the same achievement level. This is NWEA’s growth target. In that sense, a goal to meet NWEA’s expected growth target tacitly reinforces or rewards average performance and it reinforces the status quo and diminishes the urgency to address opportunity gaps.

Significantly, NWEA’s expected growth targets are not aligned with the growth a student needs in order to be on track to college readiness.

For example, if a student is on track to college readiness in reading at the end of fifth grade using NWEA’s college readiness benchmarks and if that student just meets their expected growth targets for the next three years, the student will be 3.27 RIT points behind where they need to be at the end of eighth grade to be on track to college readiness. The student loses ground. On its face, 3.27 RIT points does not sound like a lot. But at eighth grade, 3.27 RIT points represents more than a full additional year of expected growth.

The same is true for growth in math achievement. If a student is on track to college readiness in math at the end of fifth grade and just meets their expected growth targets for the next three years, the student will be 4.79 RIT points behind where they need to be at the end of eighth grade in order to be on track to college readiness. At eighth grade, 4.79 RIT points in math reflects more than a full year of expected growth.

Table No. 1 below summarizes the data for reading and math. The column at the left gives the grade level. The second column shows the MAP RIT scores that indicate whether fifth- through eighth-graders are on track to college readiness on the Spring MAP test in reading and math for the grade indicated. The scores are taken from NWEA’s 2015 study, “MAP College Readiness Benchmarks.” The third column shows the NWEA’s college readiness score for fifth graders. The scores for sixth, seventh and eighth grade show the RIT scores a student would earn on the Spring MAP tests if they started out with the college readiness score in fifth grade and just met NWEA’s expected growth targets in sixth, seventh and eighth grades. The far right column shows the difference between the scores in the middle two columns.

Table No. 1 reflects that students who start out with a college readiness score in fifth grade, fall behind each year after that if they just meet NWEA’s growth targets.

The data is illustrated in the charts below.





In addition, fifth-graders who score below the college ready benchmark scores on the Spring MAP test, remain behind if they just meet their growth targets in sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Table No. 2 below provides the same information in columns 1 and 2 as Table No. 1. The third column, however, provides the score of a fifth grader who scored at the 25th percentile on the Spring MAP test (according to MAP’s norm tables). That column then reflects the scores a student who scored at the 25th percentile would have if they just met their growth targets for sixth, seventh and eighth grades. The table shows that at the end of eighth grade, the students would be 11.28 RIT points behind in reading and 17.69 RIT points behind in math.

Paul Zavitkovsky, Assessment Specialist at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Center for Urban Education Leadership, analyzed a wider range of connections between NWEA’s growth targets and NWEA’s college readiness benchmarks. In all cases, he found that students who scored below NWEA’s college readiness benchmark in fifth grade and who just met NWEA’s growth targets in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades were still significantly below where they needed to be in order to on track for college readiness at the end of eighth grade.

Table No. 3 below summarizes some of Mr. Zavitkovsky’s data. The two left columns show the percentile rank and RIT score of fifth-graders on the Spring MAP test at various points along the achievement scale. The third column shows, for each group of students, the Spring MAP RIT score at eighth grade if the students just met their growth targets in sixth, seventh and eighth grades. The two columns on the right show a) how many RIT points each group of students would be behind at fifth grade, and b) how many RIT points they would be behind in eighth grade if they just met their growth targets.

Asked to comment on these results, Mr. Zavitkovsky said, “While these growth targets can be helpful for determining minimum learning expectations, they are grossly misleading for closing chronic opportunity gaps. Currently, only students who already achieve 1.0 to 1.5 years above grade level in the Spring of fifth grade will be on track to college readiness by the end of eighth grade by simply making expected gains.

“In her book Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, Zaretta Hammond writes: ‘To understand structural racialization … we have to entertain the idea that a series of seemingly benign or supposedly well-intended policies actually create a negative cumulative and reinforcing effect that supports rather than diminishes, the status quo within institutions.’  

“For any student achieving at less than 1.0 to 1.5 years above grade level in the spring of fifth grade, limiting expectations to NWEA growth targets reinforces the status quo and perpetuates opportunity gaps that currently exist at District 65.”

On Dec. 10, the District 65 School Board affirmed its intent to use NWEA’s growth targets to assess students’ growth. The data show that just meeting these targets is not going to get many students to where they need to be in order to be on track to college readiness by the end of eighth grade, and instead they may just reinforce the status quo.  If the Board is serious about closing the opportunity gaps at District 65, it should consider setting higher growth targets for individual students or groups of students depending on where they fall on the achievement scale.

Footnotes:

*The college readiness benchmarks identified by NWEA and that are reported in the above tables predict that a student will obtain a 22 on the ACT in senior year high school.

**NWEA’s growth targets and the percentile ranks it identifies for each RIT score on the MAP tests were developed in a 2015 Norms Study conducted by NWEA. NWEA says it created test record pools of up to 10.2 million K-11th grade students attending more than 23,500 schools in 6,000 school districts in the country. For the reading and math test events, the pools represented 14.1% of the students in the nation. NWEA says the Norm Study’s results were based on samples of 72,000 to 153,000 student test records on the MAP test from approximately 1,000 schools. The samples were randomly drawn from the larger test record pools. There were samples for each grade level.

The data generated through the random sample of MAP test takers were for students who took the MAP tests, and not for the general population of all students. NWEA noted that the schools that administered MAP tests “served a lower proportion of minority students on average, more rural schools, less special education-focused schools, and more charters,” which NWEA noted are factors “known to be strongly related to student achievement and school effectiveness.” NWEA thus developed “population weights” that it applied in an effort to make the results from the sample of students who took MAP tests applicable to the general U.S. population.