‘Connectivity Issues’ Disrupt Baltimore County Schools’ Testing
Posted by Ann Costantino on 6th January 2019
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—– By: Ann Costantino —–

Photo Source: Shutterstock / The Baltimore Post

Due to what school officials said were “connectivity issues,” Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) canceled Fall Measures for Academic Progress (MAP) testing this school year in order to maintain school-wide test result “validity,” an email directed to BCPS administrators shows.

Yet, despite the November 1 message to principals and other employees from members of the system’s central office staff, some parents and teachers are just now finding out about the problem and have taken to social media to find answers.

“I was wondering why I never got a score report.”

“Wtf? More info plz.”

“4 million dollars to reup with MAP, and it couldn’t be given. Why do it in the spring if we have no comparison from fall. I wasted 4 mornings of instruction trying to give it and it didn’t record or save the data from the day before. 😞

“so was that the glitch… that data wasn’t recorded or saved? Do we know if it’s been fixed?” “That is what we were told. I assume it will be fixed before we attempt it again. They don’t tell us much.”

The MAP test, which is designed to measure students’ academic progress at points throughout the school year, is offered in the fall, winter and spring through a contract with the NWEA, the Northwestern Education Association, a research-based, not-for-profit assessment organization that has assessed over 4.5 million students across all 50 states. 

The NWEA created its first computer adaptive educational assessment in 1985, followed by its MAP Growth test in 2000.

Baltimore County Public Schools began assessing student progress using MAP testing in 2015 through a $3.9 million contract with the NWEA.  A second contract, with a spending authority of $4 million, was approved by board members in September.

But one month later, due to “connectivity issues,” the first round of testing through the new five-year contract was a bust.

Click to view NWEA contract details.

Frustrated parents and teachers aired their concerns on Facebook on Saturday, some stating that they were informed that there had been a “glitch,” but that they were not told much else.

“We didn’t end up finishing fall MAP at all. I think many school had the same issue.”

“BCPS invalidated it across the district I was told due to enough system glitches that it invalidated the standardized process.”

“Interesting… as a parent I would think I would have heard something about this. Some notification like, ‘Due to a system glitch (whatever it was), fall MAP scores… blah, blah, blah.’ They contact me three different ways to make sure I know (interim Superintendent Verletta White) wishes me happy holidays, but they don’t bother to communicate relevant information like this.”

In addition to student assessment, MAP testing data is also used to assess teachers through Student Learning Objectives – or SLOs – which tie teacher performance to student achievement.

The NWEA defines the use of the SLOs as a “participatory method of setting measurable goals, or objectives, based on the specific assignment or class, such as the students taught, the subject matter taught, the baseline performance of the students, and the measurable gain in student performance during the course of instruction.”

The NWEA offers guidance on factors educators should consider when student test results are used as a primary component of a teacher evaluation system.

In the November email, administrators were told to tell teachers – whose evaluations were tied to MAP scores – that they would “… not complete SLOs this year,” but instead, the email stated, “These teachers will be evaluated using the professional practice portion of the evaluation tool.”  The email further stated that “Teacher SLO ratings from the previous year of highly effective [sic] will roll over as this year’s SLO rating reported to the state. All other teachers affected will be have an SLO rating of effective reported to the state.”

The entire email can be viewed here.

But parents, concerned about their children’s progress, expressed frustration that they were not provided an explanation after students took the test, only for scores to be invalidated without communication from the school system.

“My 4th grader did take the test in the fall, but I knew that there were ‘difficulties’ with the system. She even knew what her math score was when she completed the test.

When we never got a report, I asked her teacher about it at the first quarter conferences. She said that she had been told that BCPS was ‘looking into using other goal setting measures’, but she hadn’t heard anything further about what those were, or what they were supposed to be doing.

It’s absolutely mind-boggling to me that BCPS leadership hasn’t communicated squat to us about this. It’s infuriating that my kid wasted hours of time taking the damned test for absolutely nothing.

The lack of RELEVANT communication from BCPS is inexcusable.”

Connectivity issues for the system’s laptop-for-every-student program, STAT, for Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow, have interrupted instruction and testing at some schools since STAT’s inception in 2014. It is not known how widespread general connectivity issues have been, nor how they have impacted MAP testing, specifically. But the test is also used as a benchmark for reading proficiency and monitoring, starting in Grade Three.

annc@thebaltimorepost.com