EStem Provides a Public Alternative

by Jamie Walden  on Monday, Aug. 18, 2008 12:00 am  

Another notable difference between eStem and most other public schools and private schools is its state-of-the-art testing system.

EStem uses the Northwest Education Association's system of computerized adaptive testing called Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, tests. MAP tests identify the skills and concepts a student has learned, diagnose a student's instructional needs, monitor academic growth and provide teachers with detailed reports that reveal exactly what a child knows and what he needs to learn.

The tests are adaptive because each succeeding question depends on how a student answered the previous question. If he answers the question correctly, the next question will be more difficult. If he answers a question incorrectly, the next question will be easier.

What's more, the results are immediate.

The MAP testing system costs between $12.50 and $13.50 per student per school year, depending on the number of students being tested, according to Tracy Jones, a public relations representative for the Northwest Education Association.

In Arkansas, the MAP system is in use by only seven public school districts – Arkadelphia, Benton, Blytheville, Hot Springs, Springdale, Texarkana and Trumann – and the Arkansas Charter School Resource Center at Fayetteville, a support organization for charter schools.

Each eStem student will be assessed four times during the year, and teachers will get performance pay based on the results.

"And our teachers are excited about it," Brooks said, "because what business – and education is a business – does not have incentives for productivity? And in the traditional school setting, they are convinced that seniority and years of experience ought to dictate your salary, rather than what you can actually produce through results. So the performance-pay model that we're going to have, I believe, has attracted some of the best teachers."

Even the school's location separates it from the pack. EStem operates in a newly renovated building in the heart of downtown Little Rock. Walter Hussman, president and CEO of Wehco Media Inc., which owns the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and the Walton Foundation financed the $6.4 million renovation of the school's location in the historic Arkansas Gazette building in the block bounded on the east and west by Main and Louisiana streets and by Second and Third streets on the north and south.

And the irony of a technologically-savvy school reviving a ghostly, outdated building that was once home to print journalism and a printing press is palpable from several blocks away. 



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