Wednesday, August 17, 2016

MAP Test for Gifted Entry

One of my favorite readers just announced that a school district is using the MAP test for GAT placement, instead of the usual ITBS/COGAT combination.

At home, we refer to MAP Testing as the big game.  I love the MAP test and am disappointed that my school district is moving away from it.   In this article, I'm going to describe this unique test, comment on why we love it so much, followed by some thoughts on the insanity of using it for gifted testing, and finally how to beat it.  Yes, it's a test to "beat" and not take.

[Sept 2017 Update - the school district not only is not moving away from it as previously announced, this test is part of the high school entrance process.]

What is the MAP?
The MAP test is a computer test that chooses the next question on whether or not the child gets the current question correct.  If the child misses a grade level question, the next question is going to be at grade level, but the child is rewarded with correct answers by questions that move year-by-year through the curriculum.  We're not exactly sure how many grade levels the test covers, but teachers stand in the room in the back watching the screens and have told me that it goes up many years.  I know the math section goes up to trigonometry for a test taker as young as 11.

After one test, I spent some time reading the scoring sheet like a parent of an advanced gymnast probably gets into gymnastics scoring.  You can see how your 3rd grader's level compares to 30% of eight graders, for example.  It seems like both the 3rd grader and the 8th grader are seeing the same material.

Why Do We Love It?
The MAP test is supposed to measure academic knowledge.  However, scores at the high end of the range depend on a student's thinking skills, or if you're slightly cynical, test taking skills, or if you're really cynical, guessing skills.   We practice the first two skill sets.  I should probably add guessing later.

I find it very interesting that these tests would be used for GAT entry.  They're not really standardized tests because to do well on them the child has to get questions correct on unknown material.  They're not a measure of learning ability like the COGAT because the child has to knows a lot to do well. The MAP appears to be a mixture of both.

These tests are highly motivating for my kids.

Using MAP For GAT Placement
If I were a school administrator, all classes for all kids would be GAT classes.  Picking out the brightest students for a curriculum that all students should be able to freely choose is primitive and offensive to me morally and intellectually.  Kids are really GAT because they are exposed to GAT material, not because they were lucky enough to learn the required skills before they got to school.   Schools that test for GAT and have segregated GAT classes are outsourcing teaching to parents.  Kids with the right parent are going to thrive.  It is the opposite of equitable.  Even worse, children exposed to GAT classes end up GAT if the material is presented properly.

But I'm not an administrator so no one is interested in my opinion that the COGAT is a much more solid measure.  The only problem with the COGAT is that it's easier to prep for, and this means that kids who aren't putting in the hours that would give them high COGAT scores by reading and academic work that they are interested in doing end up in a GAT program and get crushed by the workload.  So with the COGAT, you can get high scoring kids who really don't want academics to be their top priority.  To finish my rant, at least through test prep they get the right skills (test prep and skills building are highly correlated).  All we need to do is address interest and motivation.

The skill set to over achieve on the MAP (meaning get a higher score than you deserve) is closely related to the skill set to needed for school achievement, so until parents read my next section and learn to game the system, the MAP might not do a bad job in predicting academic success.

It's going to predict success in a slightly different way than the COGAT and probably lose certain groups like minorities that the COGAT has taken pains to identify.  The COGAT measures skills that predict success independently of curriculum to the extent possible.  The MAP (in my opinion) is looking for kids with a similar but slightly different skill set that they are currently using to succeed academically.

Maybe the MAP approach addresses COGATs fundamental weakness - if a kid is concentrating heavily on some arcane material 3 years beyond grade level, there is a much higher probability that the kid is interested in accelerated learning.

How To Beat The MAP
The best part about the MAP in my opinion is that the key recommendations I've written about for the last few years, practices and material that we used extensively, are great ways to beat the MAP because they directly develop the same skill set that will take MAP scores to the stratosphere.  That's why my kids did so well on the MAP and had so much fun with it.

The first skill set is jumping in and taking a shot at advanced material.  This is a requirement for a MAP score above 85%.  By definition, after a certain level, the questions on the MAP are going to be new and advanced.  If you have ever done test prep, you've tried Reading Comp books 2 years above grade level simply to exercise core cognitive kills like reading the question again, evaluating answer choices (because the child is baffled), being totally comfortable with being baffled (because you are), trying again after getting nowhere, looking for clues (any clues at all please), and just having to take a long time because the material is hard.  I think there is no time limit on the MAP test, so being used to taking a long time, like 45 minutes, for a 2nd grader to answer a single 5 minute 4th grade math problem is great MAP practice.

Vocabulary is a powerful weapon on any test.  Doing Vocabulary Workshop at a reasonable pace, maybe a unit ever other week or so until it gets super hard, means that within about 10 months, the child will be at least 2 years ahead, and that's about where we were when we saw the first MAP test.

And, of course, doing math 2 years ahead, which is where I recommend to start, a little at a time at home, has obvious implications for the MAP test.  I've started kids on 2 year ahead material on day 1 when their parents come to me.   I figure they'll eventually get all the stuff they missed for grade level and grade level + 1, but the work goes much more slowly with more advanced material and much of the time, the kid is in the dark on missing material.  On a MAP test, the kid who thinks this slow pace is normal is going to just plod along on the MAP while others give up.

Great scores come from basic skills.  Go slow.  Spend a lot of time on the question.  Try all the answers.  Check your work.  Guessing can come into play if you at least understand the question. Both my kids focused on these skills in 2nd through 4th grade and the results were really good.  I subsequently found material to take care of middle school.  In our case, we spent 2nd grade through about the 1st half of 4th grade working on the two Test Prep Math books, especially the word problem and quantitative sections which are most applicable to the MAP.   This seems to be a magic time of brain development where a key skill set comes alive when the child has to tackle silly, convoluted goofy questions.  Advanced reading comprehension and advanced math don't compare.

I brought my 2 resident experts over to discuss the MAP.  My older son is not shy about suggesting taking so long on it that you have to finish the test during normal class time.  Also, be prepared to take educated guesses on the reading comp.  There strategies are pretty amusing, but I'm pleased that they don't blink when I throw topics from calculus or SAT reading comp questions at them.  They don't get them right (usually), but they don't blink.  Not blinking paves the way for progress on the MAP.

For math, the older one stated that he got division and "5 to the 2nd power" questions in 1st grade, which he had no clue what to do.  I'm not sure I would teach a 1st grader anything beyond addition and subtraction, but I am looking at their MAP scores semester by semester since 1st grade they they are highly correlated with what we were working on at home.

The material I would recommend is a combination of my math page and my test prep page which cover up to 4th grade. I'll release the middle school program after it's completed.  You don't need to teach your child advanced math, just get them used to thinking through complicated topics.   I imagine a much more educated parent than me with a PhD in Nuclear Biology Chemical Engineering thinking 'this material is not appropriate for my child' and me just plodding along thinking 'we're going to beat the much smarter child based on pure insanity'.

I told my oldest that if he doesn't seen sine and cosine functions on next MAP test, he failed me and our family going back many generations.  "What are sine and cosine functions?"  It doesn't matter. Just see them on the MAP test.

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