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Across the United States, millions of K-12 school children take the NWEA MAP or Measures of Academic Progress tests. Using a computerized adaptive test it assesses math and reading in the early grades, and language usage and science for older students. By having students take the exams in the fall, winter, and sprint, schools can see if a student is showing progress in his or her classroom.

Q: My child hasn’t been formally identified as being dyslexic, but struggles in reading. How can MAP testing help my student?

MAP tests are intended to inform schools and districts about how a student is progressing in regard to specific skills, like reading, in class. The test is adaptive, so pre-readers will be tested with picture-based questions like listening and vocabulary, while early readers will identify letters and sounds and decode and spell single syllable words. Students who can read longer bits of text can be tested on how they read into a microphone. A comprehension test is also given at the end of reading (for more details, look HERE).

The goals of testing are good – to show whether your student is making progress. If your student scores below the 30th percentile in reading, you and your student’s teachers should be trying to figure out why.

School districts will vary in how they use MAP testing so you may have to do some research to see if any changes are being made to your students educational plan.

Some districts use MAP scores to determine whether a student would benefit from a change in RTI (Response to Intervention) tier, for instance, so that can also be an important outcome of the test results.

If your school proposes using test results to suggest holding back your student, then take caution. You might want to pursue specific testing to formally identify dyslexia.

From NASP (National Association of School Psychologists) Online:

“Research indicates that neither grade retention nor social promotion (the practice of promoting students with their same age-peers although they have not mastered current grade level content) is likely to enhance a child’s learning. Research and common sense both indicate that simply having a child repeat a grade is unlikely to address the problems a child is experiencing. Likewise, simply promoting a student who is experiencing academic or behavioral problems to the next grade without additional support is not likely to be an effective solution either.

When faced with a recommendation to retain a child, the real task is not to decide to retain or not to retain but, rather, to identify specific intervention strategies to enhance the cognitive and social development of the child and promote his or her learning and success at school.

Given the evidence indicating that grade retention, when compared with social promotion of similar children, is an ineffective and possibly harmful intervention, “promotion plus” (i.e., combining grade promotion and effective, evidence-based interventions) is most likely to benefit children with low achievement or behavior problems.”

Because dyslexic students by definition have average or above-average intelligence, holding them back a grade will force them to repeat intellectual content that they have already mastered in addition to having them repeat an educational program that has already failed them in the area of reading.

Q: My student’s doing fine in school (A’s and B’s) but received a low score on MAP reading? Could it be a test problem?

It could be an individual test problem, like having an ‘off’ day, test anxiety, or trouble reading test questions, but it could also mean that your student has a reading problem that is being overlooked in the classroom. Because bright students can ‘fill in’ information by higher order thinking and educated guesses, dyslexia and single word decoding impairment can be easily missed.

Your student should be assessed in a one-on-one situation preferably by a teacher or professional experienced with dyslexia. Some students can ‘get by’ in class for many years by figuring out what their reading passages say, but their individual word decoding may be weak and problems only seen on standardized tests.

Q: My student’s dyslexia is documented on an IEP. She took the test without any accommodations. Was this a mistake?

A: Our understanding is that very specific accommodations can be employed on MAP testing in regard to dyslexia. For example, as detailed on the NWEA site, K-2 tests have embedded audio for students who want to use it – and it is possible to limit text-to-speech to answer choices only.

What is also true is that custom settings can also add to the confusion that students experience with the test – for instance, when text-to-speech is enabled, the highlighter and eraser are disabled.

If accommodations such as text-to-speech and on-screen calculator will be required, we recommend that students been given a chance to practice with the tools and ask questions about their use.

Regarding calculator use, some students fare better using a physical calculator rather than an on-screen one because of the touch feedback of the keys and their familiarity with using in regular classroom use.

To return to your question, accommodations may or may not be necessary for your student- it depends. To see if your students has diffficulty reading (and therefore should get higher tier support, the program should give your student appropriately-leveled reading passages. If she had trouble with reading the instructions or problems reading the different possible answers on the multiple choice tests, then she should have those accommodations in place. The goal of testing is to have the most accurate reflection of knowledge and academic skills for the areas tested; if accommodations are necessary to achieve that goal, she should have them.

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