Pittsburgh Schools Says New Assessment Tool Will Reduce Time Spent Taking Standardized Tests

Aug 23, 2019

Pittsburgh Public Schools will introduce a new student assessment tool this year, which officials say will cut down on the total time children spend taking standardized tests. The Measure of Academic Progress, or MAP Growth tool, from the Northwest Evaluation Association, is an adaptive test: every student starts out with an average difficulty question.

“Based on the responses to that question, it will either give them a more difficult question or a less difficult question so that it can focus in onto where the student is actually performing,” said Ted Dwyer, the district’s chief of data, research, evaluation, and assessment.

Dwyer said that means fewer overall questions are needed to determine how well a student grasps a particular concept or subject.

The district anticipates student will spend anywhere from two fewer hours of testing for kindergarteners, to up to seven fewer hours of testing for high schoolers.

James Fogary, Executive Director of education advocacy group A Plus Schools, said he’s cautiously optimistic about the potential of the new assessment tool.

“It’s a good trade-off if you can add instructional time,” Fogarty said. “We know teaching time is so important for kids learning that anything you can do to get some of that back … is good.”

Students will still have to take the state-mandated PSSA and Keystone tests. MAP Growth replaces the district’s homegrown student assessment tool, which was meant to help teachers make better decisions about how to use classroom time.

“They weren’t using them to make curriculum decisions, which is the whole point of doing an assessment,” Dwyer said. “If it’s not being used by the teachers and the principals to make data-driven decisions about the curriculum and the students, then all we’re doing is testing a student to test the student and that’s absolutely not what any educator wants to do.”

Dwyer said teachers will get an individualized report for each student in the areas tested, including English language arts, mathematics and science. Dwyer said those reports will help teachers understand where each students is and how to get them to where they need to be academically.

The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, the union that represents the district’s 3,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, police officers and other support staff, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But Dwyer said teachers have been generally enthusiastic about the switch to the MAP tool.

The cost for the district is $301,600 for the year. Dwyer said it’s hard to say whether it will cost more or less than developing an internal assessment tool, since that task has been built into the workload of existing employees.