Together 1.13.23

January 12, 2023 | Nancy Van Epps

by Head of School, Abby Hall Choi

In a Year When “NJ Responds to a Big Drop in K-12 Test Scores with ‘Call to Action,’”* Mustard Seed Students’ MAP Scores Are Through the Roof!

Over the lifetime of Mustard Seed, in our enthusiasm to broadcast how intentionally we focus on whole child development—academic, spiritual, artistic, and social—we may have missed communicating something equally important. We also attend to the fundamentals. We attend to the fundamentals systemically and passionately. Did you know that beginning in the 4th grade, we conduct testing with Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) three times each academic year?

The NWEA MAP Growth assessments measure individual student growth and proficiency as well as the student’s position in national comparisons of proficiency and performance. Because the test questions are adaptive, meaning subsequent questions are determined by the student’s previous answers, the evaluation is individualized and precise. The tests provide our teachers with actionable, accurate data in math, science, and reading. The tests also furnish statistical evidence of achievement.

Many of you may have seen in the news that New Jersey students broadly underperformed in the first post-pandemic statewide assessment tests administered last spring. In response to the “learning loss evident from a drop in standardized test scores,” the New Jersey Commissioner of Education urged adult volunteers with a call to action to act as tutors, mentors, and coaches. “There will also be a $135 million investment in ‘high impact tutoring’ through a grant from the American Rescue Plan funds for New Jersey students.”

In contrast to these concerning statewide statistics, Mustard Seed data analysis paints a rosy picture. In Fall 2020, grades 4-8 MSS students outperformed their peers in Reading not only in the state of New Jersey, but across the nation. Student scores in grades 5-8 greatly surpassed national counterparts in Math. Unlike peer schools, Mustard Seed numbers did not remain the same or decrease from 2019 to 2020; their numbers improved—substantially—during the COVID interruption. When you consider the fact that our teachers do not teach to the test, these figures are especially impressive! 

A chart developed by the NWEA showing the impact of COVID on learning may be viewed on their website here. Here is the same data with Mustard Seed numbers interposed:

This NWEA MAP chart illustrates the data from a different angle. Individual student scores are divided into five achievement quintiles of 20 points each. Red indicates a movement down one or more quintiles (Sliders), blue remains the same (Maintainers), and green reflects a gain of one or more quintiles (Gainers). Advancing from a score of 59 to 60 will register a change in quintile while moving from 42 to 59 will not. While acknowledging this limitation, the graph is still a useful measure in overall perception. 

The chart below presents Mustard Seed achievement versus national averages. For example, for Reading in the 2019-20 school year, the sixth grade class had no Sliders and 50% of them were designated Gainers versus 26% Sliders nationally. The seventh grade class exhibited no Sliders, 80% Maintainers and 20% Gainers for Literacy. In Math in this past year alone, at least 80% of our students IN ALL FOUR GRADES either maintained or gained with 5th and 6th grade each at 40% gainers. It is also significant that in the year before, between the entire 7th and 8th grade combined, there was only one Slider in Math.

This chart records movement, so obviously, it is a lot more difficult to gain when you begin the year at a top percentile. Our high percentage of Gainers demonstrates that Mustard Seed students do not rest on their laurels.

We know anecdotally that our education is effective because our alumni consistently report that they feel better prepared for academic success in high school and college than their peers. In addition to a tool in a set of comprehensive instructional strategies, our MAP scores provide quantitative evidence of the level of excellence achieved with a Mustard Seed education. 

Our alumni feel eminently qualified to speak in front of their class and possess the social emotional skills to interact favorably with fellow classmates and teachers. They possess the foundation of a strong moral compass, caring for others and the world. They love learning and value their creativity and curiosity. 

As evidenced qualitatively and quantitatively, Mustard Seed graduates also enter high school with a knowledge infrastructure intentionally cultivated to reach their full potential.

*As reported on

Nancy Van Epps

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