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Originally published Monday, January 28, 2013 at 4:01 PM

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Op-ed: Why I support MAP tests as a parent

From a parent’s point of view, the Measures of Academic Progress assessments have helped motivate her kids, writes guest columnist Kezia Willingham.

Special to The Times

No comments have been posted to this article.


I SUPPORT the Measures of Academic Progress assessments used in Seattle Public Schools. I have two children, a stepson in elementary school and a daughter in high school, who both have positive experiences with these assessments.

Teachers at Garfield High School, Orca K-8 and Chief Sealth are boycotting the MAP assessments, which the school district requires them to administer. As support for the boycott grows, I wonder if we are focusing on the right problem to fix.

While there are a number of things I feel need to be improved within Seattle Public Schools, the MAP assessment is one thing I wouldn’t change.

Both of my children are students of color. Both have experienced poverty and other challenges over the course of their young lives. Both are also bright, intelligent young people who have many gifts to offer the world. The MAP assessments have been enjoyable for both of them. They are able to talk with pride about their scores, and use the information to inspire themselves to work harder.

Why would you take this away because of political squabbling?

The assessments are used to measure what students know when they come in to school in the fall, and again later in the year. They simply provide data that informs the student, teacher and parent where the child is, what their strengths are and what areas they need to work on.

I asked my 10th-grade daughterabout this last week and she wrote down some of her thoughts:

“I think that it’s unnecessary for teachers to boycott the MAP test because it’s not meant to be a completely accurate measure of a student’s academic ability. It’s just used to determine one’s growth over time. ... At times it would even be fun taking it, because it was really exciting to see your score go up. If it went down, it’d be motivation to work a little bit harder.”

I asked my stepson, a fifth-grader, about it in the car on our way home yesterday. A smile brightened his face as he revealed that his score had improved more than he expected since last taking the assessment. He did well on both reading and math. Nothing can replace the pride a child feels when accomplishing something they perceived to be an achievement.

My stepson entered Seattle Public Schools as an English Language Learner. Today, he is fluent in English and Spanish.

My daughter could be described as an underachieving gifted student.She has always tested well but has trouble turning her homework in. Honestly, without her MAP scores, I am afraid school officials might underestimate her ability.

The fact that MAP assessments are low stakes is precisely why my children feel no anxiety whatsoever about taking them. As my daughter told me, “It’s because I knew I would not be graded that I knew it was no big deal. I enjoyed taking them and seeing what my score was.”

I work for Seattle Public Schools Head Start, a federally funded preschool program that serves children from families with low incomes and those with special needs. Because of my work I understand the difference between assessments and tests.

This is the key point being overlooked in the controversy. MAP assessments are not tests. They are not used in student grades. Whether people like it or not, data is being used more and more in program planning and design. And it actually makes sense — instead of conjecture, actual data provides more detail on areas of strength as well as areas to improve. It can reveal successes that we may not even know we’ve experienced, as well as problem areas that need further attention.

I was a high-school dropout. I was fully disengaged with school by the time I reached ninth grade. Had MAP assessments been used in my time, perhaps I too would have had my strengths identified and nurtured instead of overlooked.

Kezia Willingham has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Washington.

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