A remote testing illustration from MAP test developer NWEA.

For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic hit in mid-March, all 7,000 kindergarten-through-eighth grade students in Evanston/Skokie School District 65 start district-wide tests today.

And instead of taking those tests in the classroom, the students will be tackling them at home, on their computers.

“We’ve done a lot of work and thinking to prepare,” says Assistant Superintendent Stacy Beardsley, “but it will be different.”

Different because District 65, along with most schools in Cook County, is still on remote learning due to the ongoing threat of COVID-19.

The tests are called MAP, Measure of Academic Performance, developed by NWEA and given by many districts around the nation. It’s important to point out that these are not the anxiety-producing, high-stakes standardized tests used to help determine a school’s rating on the state report card.

Rather, the MAP test is untimed, ungraded, and tied to each individual student. Answer a question correctly, the next question gets harder. Get the question wrong, and the next one is easier. When the test is finished, teachers have a better idea of each child’s ability … at grade level, above, or below, to help plan instruction.

District 65 was going to administer the MAP tests in May, but opted out. Now, however, with no guarantee when in-person school will resume, the tests will be given remotely, over a two week period.

Kindergarteners will only take one very short test in reading fluency, including skills such as alphabet recognition. Students in the other grades will take one test in reading and another in math. In all cases, the idea is to find out where children need help, not to evaluate the school nor compare the district to others. (Pre-kindergarteners will not be tested).

Even though students will be taking the tests at home, parents are being urged not to help. That would make the test meaningless. There is a telephone helpline available for those having technical difficulties.

“We fully expect it will be a little bumpy as we try to figure this out,” Beardsley says. “We’re tackling a lot of new.”

Certainly some children, and perhaps even some teachers, will be challenged by the new testing reality. But Beardsley says the advice to students is the same as it is for all other tests: “Do your best.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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