Missouri students took a new MAP test in the spring, but results released Tuesday show that the achievement gap between all students and disadvantaged students persists.
According to figures released at the meeting of the state board of education in Jefferson City, students who are black, Hispanic, low-income, disabled or English language learners -- known in education language as a "super subgroup" -- lagged behind students as a whole in all four content categories measured: English, math, science and social studies.
Using the percentage of students who scored in the top two categories on the statewide test, the figures showed:
- English: all students 59.7 percent, super subgroup 46.4 percent
- Math: all students 45.2 percent, super subgroup 32.3 percent
- Science: all students 56.7 percent, super subgroup 41.5 percent
- Social studies: all students 63.4 percent, super subgroup 48.4 percent
Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven told the state board that Missouri has to continue working to narrow the difference in achievement, so all children show progress.
“What that means for us is, how are we going to do things differently to reach these children," she said.
“If all children means all children, we’re going to have to figure it out.”
With district scores coming out next week, the state cannot lower any district's accreditation based on this year's results, because the test was new. Still, Vandeven said, the scores present Missouri with a challenge and an opportunity.
“We can certainly still use them as a metric to inform what’s happening," she said, "but if that punitive aspect is removed we’ll just go forward and say, ‘OK, this is our opportunity school districts to figure out some of these concerns that we have, specifically about achievement gaps.' ”
Overall, according to the statewide test results released Tuesday, Missouri students did better on the first year of new standardized tests than a pilot test had predicted, but education officials say they don’t want to draw conclusions from just one year of data.
As testing began in the spring, Vandeven had cautioned that the new MAP tests were likely to have lower scores than students and parents were used to. But this week, she said she was pleased with the results, given the fact that the tests were based on new standards and students in grades three through eight took the tests online for the first time.
“It is a year of transition,” she said in a conference call with reporters in advance of the release of the statewide data to members of the state board of education meeting in Jefferson City.
“This is a brand new test that set a new baseline for student performance. We cannot compare the results to MAP tests of the past. We have, however, provided results from the field tests given in the spring of 2014, and Missouri students exceeded our expectations. Results were higher on the MAP tests in almost every category.”
Education officials said they have data for individual districts but did not want to release it this week so the spotlight could remain on the statewide numbers. District data are set to be released next week. But districts’ overall annual performance reports (APRs), which are typically released at the same time as MAP data, will be delayed until at least mid-October.
Test results in detail
The detailed test results show that in every case, students in every grade three through eight scored better on the English exam than results from the field test a year earlier. All results were in the 50 percent range for students scoring advanced or proficient, with fifth grade topping out at 59.1 percent.
In math, results were similar, though the differences between last year’s field test and this year’s exam were smaller. For this year’s eighth graders, though, only 28.3 percent scored advanced or proficient, compared with 32 percent from last year’s field test.
Vandeven gave two possible reasons for the math numbers.
First, she noted that many of the top math students in eighth grade are already taking algebra I, which has its own test, and those students would not take the regular math test as well. If the algebra students were included in the total score, she said it would be 40.8 percent.
Second, discussing why in general math scores are lower than those in English, she noted that students in earlier grades score higher because they have been exposed to the same standards and the same teaching techniques from the start of their schooling. Older students, Vandeven said, experienced changes, which could have led to lower scores.
In science, scores on this year’s MAP test were slightly lower in fifth grade than the scores on last year’s field test; that difference grew in eighth grade.
On end-of-course exams in specific subjects, the number of students scoring proficient or advanced topped 60 percent in all tests except for American history, where the score was 49.5 percent, and physical science, a new assessment, where just 27.2 percent of student were in those top two categories.
Test scores make up half of a district’s overall APR score, accounting for 70 out of 140 points. The rest of the points are awarded based on categories such as attendance, graduation rate and students’ readiness for college or a career.
Missouri students aren’t finished with experiencing changes in their tests. The General Assembly is blocking the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education from working with the consortium that oversaw the tests this year, so DESE has to come up with new tests for next spring.
At the same time, lawmakers mandated that new learning standards be drawn up to replace the Common Core. A draft of those standards is due in October, and once they are approved, they will have to be used as the basis of yet another set of tests.
Meanwhile, the law forbids the state board of education from downgrading the accreditation classification of any school district based on the first year of scores from the new test, though such a downgrade could be made based on other factors. Classification discussions will begin later this year after APRs are determined.
Also in the mix is Congress’ debate over possible changes to the federal No Child Left Behind law that mandated many state exams in the first place.
Despite the system being in such flux, Vandeven said she is pleased with the scores reported this week.
“While tests are only one way of measuring student learning,” she said, “and we certainly cannot draw too many conclusions with one year of baseline data, we are encouraged with what we see.”
Delays and confusion
While Vandeven said the improvement from the field test results showed a strong performance by Missouri students on MAP tests last spring, an education professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis had a different take.
James Shuls, an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies, said the purpose of field tests is to show how well an exam accurately reflects what students know. Typically, he said, changes are made to the tests after they are tried out, so applauding an improvement in scores may not be the proper response.
“That’s the purpose of doing a field test,” he said. “You look to see if there are questions that are too difficult. If every single student misses it, it might not be worded fairly, or there may be bias.
“It would be reasonable to expect them to make changes from the field test. I would be completely surprised if the test was exactly the same test that was administered as the field test.”
Shuls said he understands why state education officials might want to talk about the field test scores in that context.
“I think what DESE is doing is trying to avoid the narrative that the scores dropped because of Common Core,” he said, "because that is what we saw in other states. We saw that scores dropped, and people were upset.”
Rather than compare the first-year MAP scores to scores on the field test, Shuls said there are more accurate ways to use the results, such as measuring the improvement that students have shown from one year to the next. He said that calculation can be done by standardizing the scores to a national measure. But, he added, the process is complex to do and difficult to understand.
How should parents and students view the results when district MAP results are released? Shuls isn’t sure that the statewide tests can reveal anything substantive on that level. Instead, he said, districts have their own exams they can use to measure progress.
“I don’t think most schools use the state information for that anyway,” he said. “Most schools have internal tests that they use to determine how much students grew and improved.”
Mike Fulton, superintendent of the Pattonville School District, said that the state numbers can be useful, even if there is only one year’s worth of data, but they will have to be viewed in a different way.
“The problem that we're all going to run into in terms of interpretation,” he said, “is that you can't compare last year's test to this year's test, so you have to look at improvement kind of differently.”