MAP Tests: Another Tool for Building School Success in Idaho Article

MAP Tests: Another Tool for Building School Success in Idaho

As the spring days grow warmer and the traditional school year wraps up there are many rituals. Some schools have field days, others hold proms, or talent shows, but another less popular ritual for most schools and students is end of the year standardized testing. However, at Idaho’s MOSAICS Public School in Caldwell, the rigors of testing might be worth it for the students lobbing water balloons at their teachers and, of course, at Principal Anthony Haskett. They get one balloon for every eight points of academic growth earned on their MAP test. And, at Future Public School in nearby Garden City, you will probably see Principal Amanda Cox being taped to the wall by students who earned duct tape strips to celebrate their growth in learning. If this doesn’t sound like spring testing at your school, maybe it should.


In recent years, standardized testing has earned a bad reputation for students and educators alike. The practice, which was originally developed to find and share effective teaching strategies among professionals, began in the late 1800s. However, with the rise of globalization, standardized testing increased in frequency and importance. The testing became less about improving teaching practices and more about ranking schools and students (JSTOR Daily).

Bluum understood this perception, and wanted to change it, when deciding to adopt the MAP (Measures for Academic Progress) test as a no cost, optional, non-punitive assessment tool for its network of schools. Bluum has found that, overwhelmingly, their charter schools are enthusiastically on board with using the test, seeing it as a way to use real-time data to improve instruction and measure student growth.

Max Koltov, the Chief Academic Program Officer at Bluum, explains this very deliberate approach. “We view our work with our schools as a supportive partnership…the ‘wind beneath their wings’ if you will. In that context, we seek to provide schools with objective information [from the MAP assessment] that helps them get a level-eyed look at where their students are academically. We then offer support to schools who want it on how to move those students to higher levels of mastery.”

In 2017, Bluum began offering schools MAP tests for students in grades K-3, a point at which development of skills, such as reading, are critical. Now, the availability of yearly testing has expanded to all schools, grades K-8. The comprehensive testing data MAP provides aids educators in designing instructional strategies, regardless of the level of student achievement. While Bluum asks schools to use the MAP assessment at least once a year in the Spring, most schools are choosing to test in the fall and winter as well.


“MAP provides detailed formative data on the growth of our students,” explains Keith Donahue, Bluum’s Director of School Strategy and Operations.“Regardless of the population of students, at-risk, ESL, or high achieving, the MAP data answers the question: are they growing and moving toward proficiency over time.”

Donahue addresses the idea of accountability for the schools. “Bluum, in our partnership with JKAF, set a goal of creating 20,000 high-performing seats for Idaho students…not just 20,000 seats. We take very seriously the expectation that Bluum schools will be exceptional. We do that by providing them all the tools we can, lifting our schools up, and encouraging the cohort to lift each other up as a learning community,” asserts Donahue.

Bluum provides network school leaders and teachers extensive training on the benefits of the assessment and how to effectively communicate these benefits to staff, parents, and students, creating a positive, no-stress culture around testing. Educators are also given guidance on administering the test, as well as accessing and applying the results in their classrooms.

“This extra professional development around the test has really paid off. Teachers and school leaders are excited about it and want to opt in.”

Hillary Betz, Program Officer at the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation (JKAF)

The data provided by these formative assessments allows teachers across the Bluum network to make decisions that drive instruction in immediate and impactful ways before the end of the school year. Betz reflects on the benefits of the MAP test for students, “I think that [MAP testing] benefits the students most when school leaders and teachers are leaning in, having an understanding how to use this data to improve teaching and help students achieve their full potential.”

Through open, impartial communication regarding the testing data, Bluum leaders foster an attitude of growth, encouragement, and cross-network collaboration. Educators are spontaneously reaching out to others within the network to share successes and needs among their students, and develop solutions and effective interventions for all students.

“It’s important that our educators can be vulnerable with each other, to admit when they’re facing challenges, and be willing to reach out to others in the network for support. We want them to work together and share resources to reach a better, richer, deeper level of learning for all our schools.” 

Max Koltov, Chief Academic Program Officer at Bluum

For school leaders, like Amanda Cox, the use of the MAP test throughout the Bluum network has many benefits for schools. “Using [MAP testing] provides us with a common language and allows us to collaborate on specific strategies. We share wins together and celebrate, but also problem-solve around individual challenges or those that the cohort is seeing as a whole,” Cox reflects. “[The MAP test] raises the bar for all students and schools, providing accountability and transparency for all kids to be growing and making progress.”


There were several factors in Bluum’s decision to adopt the MAP test rather than a comparable test, like the Smarter Balance assessment used in many of Idaho’s public schools. In addition to it being a formative rather than summative based assessment, the MAP test has a long history of continuity, validity and reliability. The test was designed by NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association), a research based non-profit, and has been trusted for over 40 years. It is used nationally and in over 140 other countries.

The MAP data is gathered from a robust national sample. This provides schools with up-to-date, accurate, actionable evidence of learning throughout the U.S. schools. “Having the national data available is key,” states Donahue. “It allows us to see how our network of Idaho charter schools are doing compared to each other and other schools across the country.”

Betz adds, “having a direct comparison of Idaho charter schools to schools nationally gives us another layer of measurement to determine if we are achieving what we were hopeful for when we provided the means for talented, innovative school leaders to create their vision of what is possible for kids.” 

Another asset of NWEA and the MAP assessment is their ability to adapt to changes in education and technology. The MAP assessment also meets the needs of Bluum’s diverse schools throughout the state. It is available for more subjects and grade levels than any other assessment. Additionally, testing is available remotely, offers adaptive features for students with accommodations, and is designed to identify and discourage “rapid guessing” behaviors by students. As Koltov explains, “[The NWEA] are able to pivot very quickly and provide data on changing educational trends, even during difficult situations such as COVID.

The difficult time during the pandemic not only caused a loss of learning, but caused a void in data on student growth. Having the data from MAP testing as soon as kids were able to return to the classroom gave school leaders and teachers a baseline of where  students were academically. “While the assessments did show the anticipated learning loss during COVID,” explains Betz, “tests also reflected what our schools were doing right and that there were bright spots in the data as well.”

Bluum’s adoption of the MAP test for all of its network schools is groundbreaking, and places it ahead of the curve of other charter support organizations across the country.

According to Koltov, “we are doing something for Idaho that is very sophisticated, compared to other states in the nation. Bigger, more populous states do not have the level of comparable data and collaboration that Bluum network schools have. This is due in no small part to the support we receive from JKAF. We are significantly ahead of the rest of the country.” 

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