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Hurricane Matthew hit South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island in October, causing widespread damage Credit: Photo by Robert Loe

The end of the school year is a busy time, filled with field trips, final projects and, of course, spring testing.

While student testing often receives negative attention, my colleagues and I take an alternate view on it.

That’s why when there was a question about eliminating the spring Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, growth assessment, our English department spoke up.

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Before I became a teacher, my first career was in international business and finance, an industry where we regularly relied on data to make decisions.

Regular assessments were critical to determine what was and wasn’t working, and we would not make a decision on future direction without consulting our data.

Likewise, data can and should provide valuable information to teachers, students and parents about each child’s learning, and it is a critical tool for developing my teaching strategy and curriculum.

Assessment results help illustrate where each child has grown or needs extra support, and measure how they’re progressing in their learning throughout the year.

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Hurricane Matthew hit my community hard at the beginning of this school year. Schools were closed for weeks. When kids did return to the classroom, many were understandably distracted by the problems they faced at home after the storm.

Students want to learn, and by showing them evidence of how they are growing, they become enthusiastic partners in setting their own goals.

Our job of teaching them became even more important — we couldn’t let our kids fall even farther behind, especially with a shorter-than-usual school year.

So, as I do every year, I took a look under the hood and reviewed my students’ scores on the MAP growth assessment from the previous year, including where they stood at the end of the past spring semester.

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By reviewing this information, and previous years of their assessment data, I could better understand where each child stood in their learning process over time.

It allowed me to structure my teaching to build out a learning plan that best fit my students’ needs, such as implementing small group sessions to improve reading skills — a strategy that I knew worked because I’d seen the results in the data in prior years.

This data-driven approach to instruction is one that my fellow educators and I always use, but it was especially important this year given that we were short on classroom time and it helped us to get right down to business.

Assessments are also a valuable tool to help put kids in the driver’s seat of their own learning by giving them ownership of their education. Students want to learn, and when you show them evidence of how they are growing, they become enthusiastic partners in setting their own goals.  The spring MAP test shows students right away the culmination of their year of hard work. They see the goals they have met and growth they’ve made, which they can be proud of and celebrate.

Assessment results also help me communicate with parents about how they can support and encourage their child’s learning outside of school. From my experience, all parents want to help their children learn. This becomes even more critical over the summer, when many students experience learning loss. With spring assessment results in hand, I can talk with parents about specific skills they can work on with their kids or books that the students can read.

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I love being a teacher, and part of the great value and joy I get out of my career is seeing my students achieve and joining them in celebrating the progress they make.

Without a way to measure an entire year’s growth, students would miss out on a valuable opportunity to reflect on their learning accomplishments. We all deserve to know the results of their hard work and to be proud of the great strides they have made.

In the end, we were able to successfully hold our spring MAP growth assessment. As a teacher, there is nothing more reaffirming than celebrating students’ growth with them – and knowing that we did it together.

Sarah Beachkofsky is an eighth-grade English language arts teacher at Hilton Head Island Middle School in Beaufort County, South Carolina.

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