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New testing tool helps middle school students pick colleges

Some Georgia parents who like to plan far into the future have a new tool to guide their young teenagers to college.

The makers of the Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, test, have unveiled a new online predictive tool that tells parents which colleges would suit their middle school student based on current test scores.

The College Explorer tool tells middle school and early high school-age students "which colleges and universities they're on track to enter long before they embark on the college application process," according to the Northwest Evaluation Association, the global not-for-profit that makes the MAP.

Two dozen of the 180 Georgia school systems offer the MAP, most of them small. It's also given in 130 of the state's charter schools.

The MAP and its other uses have come up in hearings during this legislative session. Because the results are reported in a national context, test takers know how they stack up against the competition in other states. That isn't the case with Georgia's homemade, and mandatory, Milestones tests. Rep. Dave Belton, R-Buckhead (the city east of Atlanta and not the neighborhood of Atlanta) has been praising MAP in hearings about the state's testing regime.

The Delta pilot and former Morgan County school board member said the MAP is used at his schools. "It's a national test, it's a formative test and it's very, very effective," he said. (Formative means teachers can use it as a diagnostic tool.) "Is it true that the MAP is almost a better test than the Milestones?"

He was questioning Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, a former Cobb County school board member who authored legislation this year that would overhaul the state's testing and teacher evaluation system, Senate Bill 364.

"I'm not a testing expert," Tippins responded, "but from the feedback I get, MAP is a very effective test because it's a formative assessment but it also has a conversion component of it that will give you a summative assessment that is nationally-normed."

That is a former school board member's way of saying the MAP could be used to both help teachers figure out where their students need help and to report what those students learned during the course. That's the "summative" use of the Milestones. Summative scores hold teachers accountable for what their students learned, or failed to learn, and teachers complain that they are no help on the diagnostic end.

Currently, districts such as Decatur City Schools give their students both the MAP and the Milestones, devoting yet more time to testing rather than teaching. The idea that Tippins and Belton were dancing around hasn't made its way into legislation yet, but with a parent test backlash gaining steam they aren't the only people talking about fewer exams than can provide more information while consuming less precious classroom time.

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About the Author

Ty Tagami writes about K-12 education, focusing on statewide issues.