Twice each year, students in our elementary program (ages 6-12) participate in The Northwest Evaluation Association’s MAP testing to assess their progress in Language Arts, Reading, and Math. Rather than testing to specific benchmarks, this assessment simply allows us to ‘map’ each student’s individual academic growth to help us guide them through the curriculum.
Why We Test
Parents are often surprised to find out that The Montessori School uses a standardized test for students in grades first through sixth. Why would such a holistic approach to education want or need the numbers a standardized test produces? For us, it is so much more than the actual results of the assessment – it’s about the process and the experience for the child.
The Test We Use and Our Method
The NWEA MAP assessment is used nation-wide and in many local districts including Kalamazoo and Gull Lake public schools. What we like about the assessment is that it is computer-based and adaptive. If a child gets a question wrong, they get an easier one. If they get a question right, they get a harder one. Not one of our students is alike so why should their test be the same?
Even using a nation-wide assessment, we test our children very differently! At most schools, children are tested in a group of 20-30 students for a full morning. When their test is complete, they sit and wait for the other 20-30 children to finish. This often takes place in a different classroom, like a tech lab, with different computers. They do this two to four times every fall, winter, and spring. At the Montessori school, we test four children at a time. We do this in small rooms off of our classrooms and just twice a year. We are conscious of the groupings and group children based on how long they generally need for testing time. We also have the flexibility that most programs don’t have. If a child is having a bad day, we don’t test. If the child is hungry, tired, thirsty, has to go to the bathroom, or just needs a break, they pause and take the time they need. We want our children to get used to the content of the assessment and build the stamina to do the work, but we are not in the business of torture. Meeting the child’s individual needs is our top priority!
A Stress-Free Introduction to Testing
Students need practice! Regardless of whether a child goes to public or private school after Montessori, at some point, they are going to need to take a standardized test. The last thing we want to do is send a twelve-year-old out into the world who has never taken a standardized test! Instead, we give them six years of practice where the stakes are low. We don’t share the scores with the children and try to normalize the experience by making it just part of a day’s work.
For our students, testing is painless. Most children don’t mind the assessment, some actually look forward to it. Particularly in lower elementary, we use very little technology with the children. Students are excited to use the computers to take the assessment. They think of it as a new work!
Showing and Shaping Growth
The data is a useful tool to show parents. It shows a child’s growth over the course of an entire school year (fall to spring). It is also helpful to our guides. They can see each child’s strengths as well as examine the class’s data for holes in the curriculum and areas of weakness. Our lower elementary teacher calls it a “brain inventory”. It tells us what a child already knows and what they are ready to learn in math, reading, and language arts.
Ultimately, testing is merely a tool. In Montessori, we say that observation is our greatest form of assessment. Observation is the perfect way to evaluate the whole-child. We can learn far more about a child by watching them and talking to them. However, it is always nice to see when the data matches our observations.
Helping our Graduates Excel
Most 6th grade students need these scores to schedule classes for middle school. In the spring of 6th grade, we are often submitting our students’ scores to their middle school of choice so they can be placed in advanced classes. Since we don’t have report cards with grades, we need some data to back up our observations and anecdotal notes about each child.
We’re proud of our scores! These kids are talented in so many ways and it is wonderful to be able to show the data to back that up. Our teachers work incredibly hard to individualize instruction, follow the child, and offer a variety of areas of interest to the child. When a child needs specific intervention, we give it to them. When they need advanced work, they get it. Montessori works and we are eager to prove to the world that it truly is the best form of education!
The test scores are in from our most recent spring testing and we are very happy with the results! 92% of our students are testing at grade level or above in reading and 85% of our students are testing at grade level or above in math! This far exceeds the state averages.
Head of School
Ann Pilzner is the Head of School at The Montessori School. She taught at a traditional school in Detroit for two years before falling in love with the Montessori concept while searching for a preschool for her first child. Pilzner went on to become a teacher at a Montessori school and later an administrator before joining The Montessori School in 2016.