If you have a child in St. Michael-Albertville school district’s Pre-K through elementary schools, next year will bring some distinct changes to their standardized assessment routine. Middle school students also will see a slight tweak to their testing schedule.
At the recommendation of the district’s teaching and learning department leaders, the school board voted last week to discontinue use of TS Gold Strategies and DIBELS testing, which are used in early childhood through kindergarten for the former and grades K-4 for latter. They also voted to eliminate NWEA (frequently referred to as MAP) testing in grades 3-4.
Grades 5-10 will continue using MAP, but the middle schools will administer the MAP test in the winter, instead of spring, to cut down the spring testing schedule. High school students in grades 9-10 have already moved to a winter MAP test time.
The school district is not required to administer these tests like they are with the MCAs (Minnesota Comprehensive Exams), but they pay for the tests in order to gain information about students’ academic growth and ability. Data from these tests help educators determine whether a student could benefit from additional support or additional challenges.
Get Ready for a New Test: FAST
In place of these three tests, STMA’s Pre-K through grade 4 students will use a test called FAST. The Formative Assessment System for Teachers was invented by a Minnesota company whose founders received funding from the US Department of Education 15 years ago to improve educational assessments through research and development. FAST costs up to 50 percent less than MAP testing and takes students significantly less time to complete, typically 15-20 minutes to complete a FAST test versus 90-120 minutes for MAP.
Four teachers at Albertville Primary piloted FAST this fall and winter, and curriculum coordinator, Shari Ledahl, said the teachers came back with positive feedback about the speed of administering the test and their ability to utilize the data right away.
Why the Change?
Leaders from a districtwide E-12 assessment workgroup unveiled their findings and recommendations to school board members after spending nine months assessing the district’s assessments. They looked at the usefulness of the different tests’ data, length of time required, and cost. Staff members from the district’s teaching and learning department facilitated the group, which included staff members from all schools in the district.
Upon closer inspection, Ledahl said all three elementary schools reported concerns with MAP testing. The elementary schools felt MAP was too time consuming, and they had concerns about the heavy load of spring testing, since the DIBELS test and the math and reading MAP tests are given in addition to state-mandated MCA exams for grades 3 and 4. The MCA tests must be administered in the spring, in accordance with state and federal law.
Additionally, Ledahl said teachers frequently called the TS Gold test cumbersome, lengthy to administer and said the data it provides isn’t as useful as teachers would like.
She said teachers at every level commented on the long length of the MAP tests, but middle level teachers and administrators felt the tests provided helpful data and thought older kids could better handle the longer test. They also decided against moving to FAST at the middle level because they felt the FAST test has a tendency to “top off” for students doing well on the test.
What are Other Schools Doing?
The assessment task force checked in with nine other school districts to see which assessments they use and at what ages. They found that none of these nine districts use DIBELS or TS Gold. All of the other districts besides two use FAST for younger grades, but most comparable metro schools still use MAP testing in some capacity.
“I fully support the recommendations,” said superintendent Dr. Ann-Marie Foucault. “They had a wide representation from different teachers at all levels throughout the district, and principals as well.”
School board members also seemed enthused about the proposed changes, and they approved them unanimously.