Remember your parents making those marks on the wall that showed how tall you were getting?
Imagine being able to do the same thing with math or reading - having distinctive benchmarks that clearly show how much you've learned along the way.
Thanks to a new testing program under way in Lawrence public schools, such a progress-measuring tool is no longer a parent's pipe dream.
"I'm really excited about it," said Chris Bay, principal at Sunset Hill School, which gave students the new tests last week.
"We're excited about it," echoes Tammy Becker, principal at Hillcrest School.
Hillcrest teachers who tested it last year were in a hurry to give it to students this year, Becker said.
"It was hard for them to wait," she said.
The buzz is all about a test called MAP, or Measures of Academic Progress.
It's being taken through Oct. 10 by some 7,500 students in third through 10th grades.
The computerized test and analysis cost about $6 per student. It's well worth it, said Terry McEwen, the district's director of assessment.
"It's giving us information that we've never had before in a way that's meaningful and in a timely way," McEwen said.
In the past, teachers have had to rely on state assessments.
"By the time those teachers get those results, they no longer have those students. There's nothing more that the third-grade teacher can do with the students who are now in fourth grade," he said.
MAP will give educators and parents immediate feedback. They can use the results this school year to help students, he said.
"I think even parents, when they learn more about what it will provide for us, will be excited too," Bay said.
Finding the level
How does it work?
This fall, students sat down in their school at computers and started off with a question the average student at their grade level should know.
If they got it right, like in TV's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" trivia game show, they got to move on. The program adapted and the questions started getting harder.
There's no ceiling - if you're a whiz kid at math, it can measure you up into the college calculus stratosphere, McEwen said.
At some point, even the smartest student will miss a question.
As soon as the student gets one wrong, the computer test gives a slightly easier question.
"It gets you to a place where you're answering about 50 percent correctly and 50 percent incorrectly," McEwen said.
Eventually, after it asks 52 questions in math and 48 questions in reading, the program figures out the student's benchmark level.
After taking the test this fall, students will take it again in the spring.
"And we'll be able to see how much that individual student grew from fall to spring," McEwan said.
Parents should like it because they can meet with a teacher to see where the student was in the fall, where they are in the spring and actually measure the growth, he said.
Educators like it because it lets them see who's moving ahead, who's reached a plateau and who's losing ground.
"It will show them some real strengths and real weaknesses in their students," McEwen said.
Teachers can then adjust their lesson plans to shore up any weaknesses, he said.
Testing the test
"Last year, we began using MAP in a limited basis," McEwen said.
They tried it out in several grades at Woodlawn, Hillcrest, Sunset Hill and Cordley schools. At Cordley, it was used in third through sixth grades.
All other elementary schools used it with brand-new students entering the district, McEwen said.
"We decided, based on positive reaction from the staff and from the principals, that we would move it on this year," he said.
The test is being used in 42 states. In Kansas, it's used in 145 school districts, he said.
"The research behind this is absolutely impeccable; therefore, we know that the test is right on," McEwen said.
And the district will take away some of the other testing it does that hasn't seem to have made a lot of difference, he said.
Unlike some testing programs, McEwen said, teachers get the MAP results back right away and can tweak their lesson plans accordingly.
"It will be really meaningful to parents in the spring when they can look at a growth chart and see where their own child started and where their own child finished up," he said. "They can actually look at measurable growth. That's going to be the powerful information for parents."
Will it be better than grades?
"It will be different from grades," McEwen said. Grades measure whether the student met the particular objective of the lesson, not how the student has progressed over time, he said.
Another benefit of the MAP is it will also show the growth of a not-so-stellar student, Bay said.
That student still might not be performing at grade level. But parents can see that the student is still inching up the scale.
"The most exciting thing about MAP is that you're able to measure progress over time," Bay said. "It's like a mark on the wall where your child is in terms of height and over time, how much have they grown."