Test results for Missouri schools released Monday show that Normandy and Riverview Gardens, the only unaccredited districts in the state, continue to struggle.
State education officials stress that because the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) tests given in the spring were based on new standards, the results cannot be compared with results from previous years.
District scores on the Annual Performance Report (APR), which are normally released at the same time as the MAP scores, are delayed until at least October as officials work to make sure they accurately reflect districts’ performance.
But compared to other districts in the St. Louis area, as well as to the statewide percentage of students who score in the top two performance categories – proficient or advanced – Normandy and Riverview Gardens lagged.
In English, for example, the statewide average was 59.7 percent of students in the top two categories. Normandy scored 23.8 percent, while Riverview Gardens was at 22.7 percent. In mathematics, with a statewide average of 45.2 percent, Normandy was at 12.4 percent, with Riverview slightly ahead, at 12.6 percent.
The story was similar in science. The statewide average was 56.7 percent, with Normandy at 6.4 percent and Riverview Gardens at 16.8 percent. The brightest spot for Riverview was in social studies, where it scored 39.5 percent compared with 10.1 percent in Normandy and 63.4 percent statewide.
As with last week’s statewide totals, officials said no valid comparison can be made between this year’s percentages and last year’s. This was the first year that tests were based on Common Core state standards, and officials had cautioned that scores were likely to drop, as they typically do, when tests using new standards are introduced.
More changes are coming because lawmakers said Missouri could no longer use Common Core or take part in a consortium with other states that provided tests using those standards. Work groups are formulating new standards, with the results due this fall. Meanwhile, new tests still based on Common Core but using different questions, are being devised for this coming spring.
Sharon Helwig, an assistant commissioner for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, acknowledged in an interview from Jefferson City that such constant change is not ideal for a state trying to raise achievement and move into the top tier of states in education by the year 2020.
Noting that the tests were not only different but more demanding, she said:
“We don’t have a trend line now…. This is really probably not the plan we would have put together for our schools, to have these changes coming up in the next few years. But we did plan for this change this year, and we've been working at it for five years, so it was a change that was anticipated.”
Even though they can’t be compared with results from previous years, district numbers can give a relative idea of where districts stand.
For example, statistics for Jennings, which is provisionally accredited but hoping to move up to full accreditation, were 40.0 percent for English, 27.0 percent for math, 27.3 percent for science and 14.7 percent for social studies.
By contrast, the percentages for Clayton were 81.3 for English, 75.3 for math, 76.2 for science and 85.5 for social studies. In Parkway, they were 77.7 for English, 68.1 for math, 71.4 for science and 73.6 for social studies.
Riverview Gardens Superintendent Scott Spurgeon, while conceding that this year's numbers aren't comparable with those of earlier years, still pointed out areas where his district scored higher percentages of students who are proficient or advanced than it has since 2008.
He also said that since he took over two years ago, Riverview Gardens has been doing things a little differently.
"For us," he said, "this new assessment is about not only what do students know but what are they able to apply and do. That's a different approach to teaching and learning than what may have been done in the past."
And, he acknowledged, the frequent changes in the assessment and standards can make progress more difficult to come by.
"Any time you change an assessment system," Spurgeon said, "it does create some challenges for the district. But for us, we take those challenges and do the best we can to ensure that our students are prepared to do well on the test."
In Normandy, superintendent, Charles Pearson, called the scores “disappointing.”
“They serve as a baseline for this year,” Pearson said. “It helps us to know where students performed. In that sense, it’s very useful data. But it’s of course disappointing, given that it was our first year under a new system.”
Pearson said administrators are combing through test data to figure out what kind of learning strategies will help individual students succeed in the classroom. He said students will be tested every 30 days or so to make sure they are making academic gains.
“Now when we’re talking about achieving in a building, we’re talking about what are children learning. Are we doing it in such a way that it’s measurable so that we get the points we need for accreditation?” Pearson said. “That’s the language of the organization.”
Standards, tests and curriculum
State Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-St. Charles, was the force behind the bill that said Missouri has to come up with new standards to replace Common Core. He said that he wanted to make sure that local districts had more control over how and what kids are taught.
“The standards themselves I don’t think are the real issue,” he said in an interview. “The fact that we, the state of Missouri, need to ultimately be able to control how our children are educated and how they’re tested – and not give up that duty as well as that right to a group that we cannot control or have oversight over – is a very important aspect to educating our children and making sure they’re being taught and tested appropriately.”
He said the standards are one area of concern, spelling out what children should know. But Bahr also pointed to curriculum, which dictates how they will be taught, as well as assessment, which determines how well they have performed, as areas where local districts need more say.
“The standards are simply Johnny shall know this by the end of third grade, and Jane shall be able to do this much math by the end of fourth grade,” he said. “The curriculum then is the books: how to teach them to get there.
“And the assessment is the test: Did they learn it, did they understand it and how well do they get it. The curriculum is really a product. Whenever the standards and the tests are created, the curriculum simply fills in the hole. So when you control standards, and when you control assessments, you will control curriculum.”
Kelvin Adams, superintendent of the St. Louis Public Schools, wants the focus on student achievement to move away from MAP tests alone. For large districts like his, with mobile students and staff, the situation can be tougher to deal with.
“We have a real challenge in the state of Missouri around this testing piece,” he said. “It’s not a negative piece, but we really just have to come to grips in terms of what we’re going to do around assessment and how we look at schools and score kids.
“It’s really not about one single assessment. It’s really about what happens over the entire school year. That’s what we’re focused on to make sure that we impact kids’ lives.”
He likened the constant change in standards and assessment to a tornado or an earthquake, something that makes districts look at learning in a different way. Such change takes time, he added.
“This is a different thinking process,” Adams said. “It’s not multiple choice. It’s really thinking critically and getting kids to respond in a different kind of way. So for us, I think it’s going to be beneficial to give us a little more time, to prepare our teachers to align our curriculum to do all those sorts of things….
“It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s constantly keeping us on our toes. We’re not complaining. No excuses. No excuses. Period. Zero. But it makes it more difficult.”
Despite the cautions that this year’s test results should not be compared with those from previous years, after last week’s statewide results were released, DESE proclaimed on its website that “The Standards are Working.” It based its conclusion on the fact that Missouri averages were higher than those for students in more than 20 states that had taken a pilot version of the test the year before.
Chris Neale, another assistant commissioner, said Monday that he thinks such a conclusion is valid.
“The field test made certain projections,” he said, “and by and large Missouri exceeded those outcomes significantly. We know those are more demanding standards, so if we exceeded the predicted outcomes on more demanding standards, we feel like we have provided a more rigorous framework for the students in the state, and that in fact our teachers and our administrators have risen to that challenge.”
Still, according to Vic Lenz of south St. Louis County, vice president of the state board of education, all of the changes in standards and testing will make it harder for the state to reach its goal of being in the top 10 by 2020.
“It’s going to make it much more difficult,” Lenz said, “but we have to do what we can under the rules that we have.
“The idea in my head is that we need to keep making progress toward the goals, and if we don’t make top 10 by ’20, we better be making some progress.”
(We have learned of technical difficulties that may prevent a graphic from displaying. If you do not see a chart below, you can follow this link to find the information on district-by-district results.)