New tests measure student growth through adaptive technology

By Scott Thomas

At your next parent-teacher conference, you may discuss results from a new test at Austin ISD called the MAP Growth, which is given to students in elementary and middle school.

This test is new to many families because it’s only the second year Austin ISD has administered it, and most students learned virtually off-campus last year which exempted them from taking it. While there are other standardized tests in Austin ISD, including the state-mandated STARR, MAP Growth is different in several ways. 

First, MAP Growth uses adaptive technology — like a video game — to make questions progressively harder or easier depending on whether a student gets answers right or wrong.

“It’s not your typical standard achievement test,” said Erin Bown-Anderson, assistant superintendent of academics. “It is an adaptive test where students are intended to get 50% of what they’re answering wrong.” 

Second, MAP Growth produces two results: an achievement score called an RIT and — if students have taken the test before —  a growth score. Austin ISD will administer this test two more times this year and track students’ growth as they progress not just this year but as they move up in grades.

Third, another advantage of this test is that teachers get results right away instead of waiting weeks like they do with STAAR. Families will get their student’s MAP Growth results as an itemized list of strengths and focus areas to review with their teacher.

“We say, ‘Here are the things you can be doing at home, these are things we’re going to work on in the classroom,’” said Sarah Day-Linnell, a third-grade teacher at Baranoff Elementary. 

Parents can then work with their child’s teacher to use tools already on their student’s iPad or Chromebook. There are several programs available that teachers can connect parents with to help support their child. For instance, if a teacher sees that a child is struggling with math, they can work in Dreambox, an online math platform. 

“The score is really about ‘what do I need to do as the teacher to ensure that I’m providing the instruction that is going to push you to the next level’,” Bown-Anderson said.

While traditionally the goal of a test is to get all the questions right, that’s not feasible on MAP Growth, nor is it the goal. Instead, teachers will be looking for growth as the test is administered again in the coming months and years.

“As long as we’re getting to a certain amount of growth, that’s progress,” Day-Linnell said. “That’s our philosophy more so than grades.”