Perhaps this is a bit too much inside baseball, (and I know it makes me out to be a test-geek), but I want to write briefly today to cheer the news that the OECD Test for Schools (based on PISA), abbreviated to TFS, has been taken up by NorthWest Evaluation Association, coming over from its previous administrator, CTB-McGraw Hill.

(Note: I have no current or past affiliation with NWEA nor with OECD).

NWEA is best know for its MAP testing, the Measures of Academic Progress computer adaptive test.  More about MAP below (after jump):

An Implementation Toolkit for the OECD Test for Schools  Based on PISA    21k12Regular readers know of my enthusiasm for PISA testing in schools; in 2013-14 I researched and wrote a 64 page user’s guide and toolkit on the PISA TFS, (for EdLeader21 funded by the Hewlett Foundation) sharing how it is being and how it can be valuably used at the school level.
It was fascinating to observe and learn how unique and exciting this tool is: PISA questions are richer, more challenging, more open-ended, far more demanding of higher order thinking than those of most other tests. (Sample questions can be seen in slides above or in this excellent compendium)

The TFS 160 page school results report is a thing of beauty: colorful, studded with scores of charts and tables, enabling comparison of your students to norms globally and US.  There’s information about your school’s performance compared to like-socioeconomic schools as well. pisa aboutpisa Golden_e book_1_example.pdf There’s also a bunch of data about how students perceptions of their schooling– reading practices, teacher relations, instrumental motivation– can be mapped onto their performance, giving schools far more insight into opportunities for improving student performance than most other tests or tools.

The report is also studded with great little nuggets about evidence-based educational practices from around the world.  Disappointed by your school’s reading results?  Read about how reading is taught in Finland.  And so on.  Administering the TFS is an awesome window into comparative educational practice research and opens up perspective and understanding for school-leaders brilliantly.

I often tell people the story of Fairfax County (VA), which enrolled ten of its high schools in the PISA TFS pilot, at no cost, and was so delighted by the value of the reports they received that they then expanded their involvement, enrolling 27 high schools in the test at $12,000 each!

But, as successful as the TFS has been to date, it has been limited a bit by its previous high price point (about $12K) and its less-than-terrific management by the for-profit corporate behemoth that is CTB-McGraw Hill.

So how great it is to learn that its being taken up by the not-for-profit (501(c)3) NWEA, which is well regarded nationally (and in my own personal experience as a school-leader) for its skillful management of the MAP (more about below).   MAP has long been administered online, and now TFS will also be administered.  Because of the greater economic efficiency of online testing, NWEA will be slashing the price point for the TFS, down to about $6500 (and only $5000 this pilot year though June), and it is my recommendation that every high school strongly consider adding the PISA TFS on an annual basis– or perhaps every other year or third year.  Do it every three years and your amortized price is about $2k a year– worth it. 

In my view, OECD TFS pairs well with MAP, balancing and complementing it nicely, and making it easy for K-12 schools or districts to work with just one main cognitive testing vendor for their multiple measures management.  MAP offers schools great formative information for every individual student about primarily “basic” skills, measured by multiple choice questions, through those crucial upper elementary and middle school foundation years: TFS-PISA is for high school students (15 year olds), sitting as something of a capstone to evaluate whether your school is serving its students on the whole in mastering the critical thinking, analytic reasoning, problem-solving skills we know are so important, through a mix of some multiple choice but more often open-ended short essay responses.

And NWEA will be working to improve TFS by drawing on some of its strength in providing interactive reports and longitudinal reporting: growth over time.

MAP is cool: in a time-compressed online administration, schools, teachers, parents and kids get a quick and close read on student proficiency in Reading, Math, and Science that can be used very effectively to differentiate and personalize instructions, particularly though not exclusively in upper elementary and middle grades.

As Head of St. Gregory College Prep (2009-12), I moved the middle grades over from ERB CTP testing to MAP, and it was a great move for us, quite widely (not universally) appreciated– and teachers felt they had a genuinely improved ability to serve students (see video of our teachers discussing MAP’s advantages).

Since that time, I’ve worked with and spoken to many schools about moving their elementary and middle school testing to MAP, and seen very positive results at those schools, some of them very progressive K-8 schools in California which have missions dedicated to personalized learning, which they have determined MAP is much more effective for supporting.  In 2012, then Middle School Head Heather Faircloth and I prepared this slideshow for parents about the power of MAP testing in being assessment for, not assessment of, learning.

(And by the way, MAP testing does not at all deserve the negativity directed at it in the recent film Beyond Measure. I liked the film, on the whole, and I understand it was quoting Seattle teachers and students, not necessarily endorsing those quotes, but the quotes aren’t, in my opinion, accurate or fair in the way they describe MAP.)