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Posted on Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Test time: Student-growth evaluations, data to take center stage in Ann Arbor schools

By Danielle Arndt


Students in Ann Arbor started the fall series of a computer-adaptive test through the Northwest Evaluation Association Tuesday. file photo

It’s testing season at Ann Arbor Public Schools.

Armed with one year under their belts, teachers are preparing to launch the district’s second year of a student-growth test through the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA).

AAPS approved spending $92,700 to purchase and implement the computer-adaptive Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test prior to the 2011-12 academic year.

The purpose of the test, which adjusts on a question-by-question basis to each child’s understanding of the material, is to evaluate students’ progress, strengths and weaknesses throughout the school year. It also likely will be tied to teachers’ evaluations down the road, as district and union leaders continue to hash out details of a new evaluation process.

Kindergarteners off the hook

The NWEA testing period for fall kicked off Tuesday and runs through Oct. 5.

Students in grades first through fifth at all of Ann Arbor’s 21 elementary schools will take the test, as well as sixth- through eighth-graders at Scarlett Middle School and Ann Arbor Open. This is the same group of students who took the test last year.

Deputy Superintendent for Instruction Alesia Flye said the district plans to implement the test at its four remaining middle schools in the future; however, a timeline for expansion has not been set.

“With it only being the second year, we wanted to keep the same framework until we get even stronger at using this tool,” Flye said. “And we are getting requests from more of our schools (to be included in these assessments).”

New this year, kindergarteners will not be required to take the fall exam. They will be tested in January and May, during the second and third rounds of the assessment.

“That decision was made based on feedback we received from our building principals and from parents,” Flye said. “We wanted to give our kinders more time to get settled into the school year and not have to worry about preparing for an online assessment. We respect the fact that these young students certainly have more transitional things that need to occur in just getting them acclimated to a learning environment.”


Alesia Flye

The NWEA MAP assessment measures student growth three times annually. Progress reports are sent home to families in October and June.

In an email to parents alerting them of their child’s upcoming testing period, Flye said each student will spend a total of about two hours on the NWEA test this fall.

Since the computerized test is designed to ask questions at each child’s individual skill level, Flye said each student has the “same opportunity to succeed and maintain a positive attitude toward assessing.”

Parents grow weary

Because Ann Arbor teachers have had a year to work with the test, adapt to the new technology and engage in more professional development on how to use the data, Laura Carino, a first-grade teacher at Dicken Elementary and coordinator of the test for the school, said staff members are primed to have a very successful and beneficial testing season.

“The data is so plentiful … it’s really a teacher’s dream to have that kind of access to data,” Carino said.

But while it may be a teacher’s dream, it’s more of a nightmare for some parents who have grown weary of all the testing at Ann Arbor schools.

Julie Roth, the mother of a fifth-grader at Ann Arbor Open, ran down her child’s testing schedule for this fall:

  • Sept. 28 — NWEA reading
  • Oct. 1 — NWEA math
  • Oct. 9 & 10 — Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) reading
  • Oct. 16 — MEAP math
  • Oct. 17 — MEAP science

On top of that, on Friday, Roth’s daughter finished the Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI) assessment, which, according to the program’s website, provides “immediate, actionable data on students’ reading levels and growth over time.” The website also says it helps educators “differentiate instruction, make meaningful interventions, forecast growth toward grade-level state tests and demonstrate accountability.”

Roth added also on her daughter’s schedule for fall is FASTT Math, another test that boasts differentiated instruction. According to the district’s website, it helps students develop automaticity with basic math facts in customized, 10-minute daily sessions.

To Roth, it seems all of these tests evaluate the same skill sets and provide teachers the same data to individualize children’s learning. So Roth’s question is: Why so many?

“There is not even any time left to teach (kids) anything between all of these tests, and the overlap — there is so much overlap,” she said.

Roth said at her child’s parent-teacher conferences last year, her daughter’s teacher was able to point to where the NWEA test accurately reflected her daughter’s abilities and where it didn’t.

“(The teacher) didn’t seem to need the test. To me, it just seems as if we have gotten to a place in education where we don’t trust teachers. I get upset with the idea that we are letting a computerized test inform instruction and curriculum, rather than a real live human being,” Roth said.

“Children’s instruction is becoming so cookie-cutter and so content based. … (Testing) forces very dry, very fact-based, linear teaching methods. It gives teachers no latitude to explore something in depth or to follow students’ interests in the classroom. … We should be engaging kids’ curiosity and research skills, not letting a series of tests drive the curriculum.”

More testing changes to come

Roth said she understands when the NWEA assessment was added, it hopefully was going to help the district find one test to serve all of its needs. AAPS Board of Education members have expressed a hope that the district will be able to use the NWEA assessment in lieu of whatever computer-adaptive test the state comes up with in a couple years.

In 2014, the state of Michigan is expected to move away from the Michigan Educational Assessment Program exam to an unknown computerized test that also adjusts as students answer the questions. Like the NWEA assessment, the MEAP replacement also will be aligned with the Common Core standards, officials in Lansing have said.


The Michigan Educational Assessment Program exam is scheduled to be replaced by a computerized test in 2014.

File photo

Roth said she does not understand why the Ann Arbor schools felt it necessary to get ahead of the state. And if the state does not allow local districts to select their own testing methods, which she is doubtful it would, then her children are still spending too much time being tested and will have to learn to take yet another exam, she said.

“We are creating good test takers … but if the world needs engineers, lawyers, innovators, entrepreneurs … we need inquisitive kids and we need risk takers,” Roth said. “In order to do that, kids have to feel safe being wrong and safe taking risks. … Our kids are being taught to play by the rules, to get the right answers and to get a good score. … It’s the anti-goal of creating successful, high-achieving young adults.”

Amy Pufahl, secretary of the Pittsfield Elementary School Parent-Teacher Organization, agrees that students are being tested too much. However, she is a fan of the NWEA assessment.

She found it helpful last year to see how her three children where improving throughout the school year, Pufahl said.

“Having the test cater to the student taking it is more helpful than when the questions are the same. … It’s more informative about where students’ strengths are and (what areas) they are making gains in than just seeing whether an answer is right or wrong,” Pufahl said. “As a parent, I liked the reports with my children’s percentile ranges.”

A learning curve & data banking

Carino said the NWEA test hopefully does confirm what teachers already know, but the data allows teachers to really break down and organize instruction better, based on an endless selection of categories and outcomes assessed.

She said it differs from the MEAP and other standardized tests in that, not only is the data immediate, but teachers can manipulate the data to compare, highlight or hone in on whatever component they would like. For instance, the MEAP gives one score for math, but the NWEA test permits teachers to analyze how students did on priming, addition, subtraction and other specific areas.

And soon, the district will have a multi-year bank of data for each child in the school system, which teachers will be able to refer to, Carino said. Teachers will have a better understanding of the children in their classes before even meeting them on the first day of school.

Carino admitted the amount of data and the possibilities for using it may seem overwhelming to teachers at first, but as with most things there is a learning curve. She said once teachers adapt and learn to be specific and deliberate about sifting through the data and can know in advance the purpose of their search and how they intend to use the findings, it will be a much more effective assessment process.

Flye said district administrators realize that testing can cause some stress and concerns for families, especially considering the NWEA test is still so new and everyone is still becoming more familiar with the process.

“We certainly understand the anxiety that families and students experience. … In trying to alleviate that anxiety, teachers are really just focusing on the instructional content all school year long,” rather than just an intense build-up to the test, Flye said.

Kindergarteners and first-graders do take up to two practice tests prior to completing an NWEA assessment. The purpose is to allow these young students time to practice clicking on the mouse and to acclimate them with the computer-based test, so come test day, they are comfortable with how the program works, Carino said.

She tells her first-grade parents the best thing they can do to help their children’s anxiety is to make sure they have a good night’s rest the night before and eat a healthy, hearty breakfast that morning.

“I explain to my kids it’s like their growth chart at home that shows how much taller they’ve gotten. This test shows how much smarter they’ve gotten,” Carino said. “We want them to take the test seriously. … I tell them it’s not a race, that I’m going to be proud of them regardless of how they do. … This is just an opportunity for them to show me how smart they are.”

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 1:01 a.m.

I may be in the minority here, but I actually like the NWEA. My kids enjoy taking it because it adapts the questions to their level. You're not stuck taking a test that is too easy or too hard for you. But mostly I like it because after my child took it for the first time last year, he actually received differentiated instruction. In the years before we had this test, I always felt like the "pesky parent" asking for challenging math and only getting it if the teacher had time. After taking this test for the first time, the teacher said she knew he was good at math but didn't realize he was actually testing several grade levels above. She allowed him to do some independent study, which was really all he needed. If we didn't have those numbers in front of us at that conference, I don't think he would have been offered that opportunity. Now for the MEAP....I say get rid of it! Takes way too long and gives the results too late.


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 11:36 p.m.

Laura Carino must want to be an administrator. The first grade teachers I know feel the exact opposite of her.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 9:10 p.m.

Test season? Is that like hunting season? When will there be learning season? I am so sick of all this pointless (yes, pointless) testing taking up all this time from actual learning experiences, it makes me almost despair. Are people really so gullible that they think all this time out of classes to take these tests is made up for by improvement is learning? Come on, folks. It's a scam. Dump it and move on.

Than Nguyen

Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 7:31 p.m.

The value to these computer based tests is helping teachers better tailor lesson plans to their students' particular strengths and weaknesses. I fully support computer based testing because it will provide fair and precise evaluation of a student's competency. Than Nguyen


Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 12:05 p.m.

The "Focus" is on the achievement gap, got it?? That's what the lesson plans are tailored to, that's what the evaluations are for. Unless you are a "pesky parent" like aamom mentioned, don't expect tailored lesson plans for highly competent students. And I am NOT blaming the teachers, they are under so much pressure with all of Green's initiatives ...there is only so much time in the day and unless you are strongly advocating for your's just the way it is.


Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 1:51 a.m.

Local - With the forced age groups in AAPS, that is EXACTLY what teachers are being forced to do, and kids are being forced to endure. Our age-grade lockstep serves very few students well, and condemns our gifted students to boredom and underachievement.


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 10:19 p.m.

So Than, are you expecting teachers to make out teaching plans for some kids who are at the third grade level as a 5th grader and plans for kids in the same class who scored in the high school range? I am anxious to hear how that class would look during instructional time when you have 28-32 kids learning all at a different level. Just wondering!

Linda Peck

Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 5:01 p.m.

RIght, get them back to school after summer vacation and then test them. Really?

Rob Pollard

Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 3:01 p.m.

Wait, they are going to use standardized tests, given multiple times a year, for 1st graders and KINDERGARTNERS? (which, btw, is misspelled in this article) Any decent, not to mention good/great, kindergarten teacher should readily be able to tell any parent, during once or twice a semester parent-teacher conferences or when request for feedback, how their kid is doing in reading, writing and math, along with critical social skills based on the work the kids do every day. The teacher would simply have to say "Here's how little Johnny wrote his name at the beginning of the year; here is how he does it now","Here is how he did on a math worksheet at the start of the year; here is how he improved (or continues to struggle)" Etc. All the info is readily there, ready to be put in a small folder for the parent/student. The fact the administrators are worried about how well the kids will administer the mouse clicks required to take the test show how pointless it is - it's a score that will measure how will the kid takes tests, not necessarily their skills. And please tell me how this test will tell me how a kid is doing in all the important social areas - do they follow directions, play well with others, handle disappointment/frustration, are they making friends, etc. These emotional/maturity qualities are just as important, if not more so, at early ages for making functioning older kids & adults. This isn't sports where we need to put a "score" on everything to see who is winning or losing. Either trust these teachers, and their parents working with them, to do their jobs or hire baby-sitters & test proctors to save money and be done with it.


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 2:55 p.m.

I thank the stars that I no longer have children in school. It's been a long time now since the testing craze has passed the threshold of insanity. Parents, WHY don't you withdraw your permission for your child to be constantly tested like this??? If enough of you exempt your children from these bogus tests, the bureaucrats will, eventually, get the message!


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 4:52 p.m.

There is no opt-out option for the NWEA. There is a long "make-up period" so if your kid is absent for the testing days (all of them), they just pull them from class and test them on different days.


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 4:11 p.m.

Getting exemptions are very difficult. There are more roadblocks than you may anticipate. Some principals say "yes," others say "no" and the AAPS says "no exemptions."


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 2:52 p.m.

When I was in school in Ann Arbor Public Schools we only needed 19 credits to graduate and we did not have all the requirements we need today. I am a college graduate as are all my friends. Schools are pushing students too hard these days. For what?


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 2:23 p.m.

I guess I have a different take on testing. When I was in grade school (back in the dark ages, long, long ago) our school used the Iowa test twice a year - once in the fall and once in the spring to determine student needs and growth. This was stopped in the 1970s by a change to the teacher's contract. I don't know what other use the test scores may or may not have been put to, I was a grade schooler at the time I took the tests. We used a monthly reading and a monthly math test that put students in groups for the coming month in the grade school for each subject. We had standardized reading tests at the end of each reading unit. We had other standardized tests for other subjects. Students were grouped based on their test results, not age group for math, reading, and some other subjects. Students who were well beyond grade level got to go to the library - reducing the student counts in the groups that were at the lowest level. It worked, I only remember 2 students who did not move from 6th grade to the high school at the end of grade school. Both were new to the district and way behind. Test are useful - if you setup the school system to take advantage of the results and allow teachers to focus on a group of students with similar issues. So long as we toe the line on factory schools, and make all teaching by age group, rather than by skills and abilities, we will never get the most out of the testing we do nor out of the teachers or the students.

J. A. Pieper

Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 11:22 p.m.

AAPS will probably never have classrooms changed from age to ability groups - too many of specific groups would be stuck at a certain level. Think of the achievement gap students...

andy kelly

Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 4:54 p.m.

DonBee has stressed a valid and insightful point. If we are able to group children according to skills and abilities, rather than age, we will get a wonderful result. In this scenario significant testing will work. Of course, this scenario is also the challenging path that will get people all inflamed over categorizing special skills, ADHD, and the like.


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 2:36 p.m.

Good grief, DonBee, massive standardized testing protocols CREATE these factory schools of which you speak. Nobody is saying the teachers should not assess where their students are. Of course they should! But there are too many tests, all testing the same things. Teachers are being coerced into teaching only what is on these tests (primarily math and reading) at the serious detriment of all other things (science, social studies, research skills, inquisitiveness, social skills, etc etc). You are wrong on this one. The testing in the AAPS is out of control right now.


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 2:18 p.m.

RE using the NWEA to evaluate teachers: Invalid. According to the NWEA's OWN Independent Study Group, Kingsbury Center at NWEA. Here is a document from this group: Class sizes are too small for accurate statistical analysis -- MAYBE a school district could be evaluated (with attention to socioeconomic status), but any statistician knows that sample sizes in the 20's and 30's are too small. Also, kids are not randomized into classrooms (nor should they be -- if Mr. Jones is great with the shy kids and Ms. Smith is wonderful with wiggly kids, place them for optimal success!). Without randomization, again -- invalid.


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 1:37 p.m.

I do find the idea of accruing detailed data for each individual student very appealing, if it could be organized and easily drawn upon to help tailor curriculum focus on a more individual basis. That said, testing seems out of control right now. My daughter spends more time preparing for tests, worrying about tests, taking the tests, then worrying about the next one, none of which contributes to any genuine education, but rather interrupts and distracts. You really want to give our teachers the most valuable tool possible to improve their ability to individually monitor and tailor education strategies best for each child? Let them spend more time teaching and less time testing, and more importantly - lower the class sizes. It doesn't matter how efficiently a test database can sort and present info. If several weeks out of the year are consumed by tests, and the teacher has to evaluate the data and form individual strategies for 32 students, this is hardly an ideal strategy. Keep class sizes were manageable, provide suitable resources for kids with special needs which the teacher can't always address. Develop better software and tools that can be somehow integrated in to the regular curriculum which the teacher can use to track and report progress, rather than all this interruptive testing. It seems much of this is focused more on grading the teachers and districts than educating the students. Not saying that assessing teachers and districts isn't important, but if not designed well it can do more to interfere with the student's education than improve it. We still need ways to track student progress and teacher performance, but I don't think our current testing does either that well. This system needs to be rethought and redesigned from a radically different approach.

andy kelly

Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 4:48 p.m.

Simple - it is now a teach-to-the-test mentality, especially when teachers jobs are on the line.


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 1:22 p.m.

Ms. Roth: You cannot questions teachers about educational matters. They have the degrees and are smarter than any of us. "So Roth's question is: Why so many?"

andy kelly

Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 4:47 p.m.

XMO - I believe that you are confusing a teacher working on behalf of Dictator Green and the plump administration with a teacher who works directly with children and seeks NO administrative future.


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 1:12 p.m.

This incessant testing is one of the worst things to happen to public education in a long time. Talk to high school and college teachers who have begun to see the results -- the test mentality has created a generation with less capacity to solve problems and process information on their own, skills critical to succeed in the job market and the world beyond school. Elementary school should instill an interest in learning, a desire to figure things out and know more. This testing just drives all joy and ambition from the learning process.


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 12:16 p.m.

Measuring the richness of learning by giving a standardized test is like judging chili by counting the beans. To put it mildly, Dr. Green is a bean counter.


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 8:20 p.m.

Dr. Green-Bean Counter?

andy kelly

Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 4:43 p.m.

GoNavy - you support the multiple testing? How about the fact that with teacher's evaluations tied to student performance it will be a teach-to-the-test situation in the classroom. Do you also support teach-to-the-test?


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 1:10 p.m.

...Which would lead me to ask: What do we do when the bean count in fact reveals some pretty thin gruel, rather than the "rich chili" we were expecting? Selling a bill of goods to somebody is one thing, but as we all know, "the proof is in the chili," so to speak.


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 1:06 p.m.

That's Dr. Bean Counter to you.


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 11:42 a.m.

As a parent, I wonder about the accuracy of these data. What are we really testing, and what is the variability in the data over time? Is an 89 in math in September really different from an 83 in math in January? The messages my students have received are: "This test score will stay with you in middle school, high school, and even college." and "This is the most important test you will take all year long." If those two statements are true, then I want to have a high level of confidence in the output of the test. How can I, as a parent, learn more about the nature of the NWEA?


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 11:06 a.m.

As a teacher in the district this test tells me nothing I couldn't figure out on my own, period. This test was put in place so that Dr. Green and company could grade teachers on student growth at a $92,000 price tag. This test, along with the SRI, and then in a few weeks MEAP, basically puts the normal school day into chaos where truly no teaching gets done from now till mid-October. Not only that, but the use of the schools computer lab is non-existent because of the need for testing. (Remember, this occurs in January and again in May) As a parent who has kids in the district, it drives me nuts that we standardize test our children to death. I am surprised more parents don't feel this way.


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 10:50 p.m.

Macabre, I can't argue your point, because their are teachers out there who shouldn't be teaching. When I look at union involvement that is a small part of what they do. Our union fights for many other things as well, which makes our union very strong. But I guess I wonder if putting kids through this 3 times a year is worth it if we are simply using this as a tool to get rid of bad teachers? People can argue the idea of data and using it to help educate kids, but for most, the data doesn't tell us anything we don't already know.

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 10:37 p.m.

Local, if there's anyone to blame, it's your own union. Teacher unions make it so difficult to even sneeze at a bad teacher that we need to take extraordinary measures to establish that a teacher stinks. In the old days, it was obvious who shouldn't be teaching. In the modern world, it's still obvious, but we can't point it out without spending millions on lawyers.


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 1:07 p.m.

As a teacher who is familiar with data sets, you must be aware that there are in fact taxpayers out there who do not have children enrolled in school. You could count me as one of those individuals. Its important to me that I see results from expenditures of my tax dollars. If "testing" reveals deficiencies in performance, I'd like to know about it - so that my tax dollars can be put to better use.

Brenda Kerr

Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 10:58 a.m.

I like the idea of multiple tests in a year. Studies have shown that kids lose a lot over the summer and a series of test may hightlight this and prompt changes to the school year.

andy kelly

Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 4:38 p.m.

Brenda, please provide a list of the studies that you reference so you may back up your argument.


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 10:20 a.m.

The NWEA test is NOT a teacher's dream. The test gives no specific information about a child's learning but only puts them in a category with similar children who may or may not have answered certain parts of the tests correctly. Teachers get more information about their children just by teaching. This test was likely adopted only to evaluate teacher performance.


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 2:28 p.m.

Did you really expect an aaps mouthpiece to say anything different to