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Education

Missouri education leaders try again to write new state school standards

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 16, 2011 - Trying for the third time to devise new standards to judge Missouri schools, state educators are beginning by asking help from the people who will be affected most.

Teachers, administrators, board members and more convened at the University of Missouri-St. Louis Thursday morning for the first of three regional advisory committee meetings -- one of a number being held around the state -- for questions, comments and discussion about the fifth version of the Missouri School Improvement Plan, or MSIP5 for short.

Major changes would include an emphasis on student performance, which currently is considered along with resources and processes when districts are judged for accreditation; and elimination of the five-year cycle in favor of more frequent evaluations. (see below)

The new plan was supposed to be finalized already, but at the last minute, in April, state officials pulled it off the table in response to a series of criticisms lodged by education groups across the state.

Pledging to respond to those critiques and come up with answers to questions about issues ranging from testing to resources to how often and how intensely school districts will be judged, officials have said they hope to have the new rule ready for consideration by the state school board by August.

Setting the tone for the meeting, Margie Vandeven, assistant commissioner in the state's office of quality schools, said Missouri's big goal is to rank in the top 10 across the nation by the year 2020 in a number of educational measures. The purpose of MSIP5, she said, is to make sure that school districts know what is expected of them for accreditation and to make sure they provide students with the best possible education.

"A goal not set," she told the group, "is a goal not met."

But in small group discussions following a couple of presentations on MSIP5 and what it is designed to measure, some members of the regional advisory committee said that at this point, the big goals set by the state and the smaller measures in the proposed accreditation rules don't always line up.

Art McCoy, superintendent of the Ferguson-Florissant School District, said that whatever is going to be measured to determine if Missouri cracks the top 10 nationwide should get a lot of weight in the state accreditation standards, and other factors should be discounted if they appear at all.

"The top 10 by '20 goals are unique and succinct," McCoy said. "You should have a few goals, be faithful to them and measure them. We need to focus on what's essential and not require any other things unless they are aligned with the top 10 and unless they are funded by the state."

That second point -- money -- was raised by others as well.

Many members of the committee talked of unfunded mandates -- requirements that are banned by the Hancock amendment to the Missouri Constitution -- and said the state should not pile testing and other requirements on school districts without providing the dollars to pay for them.

Otherwise, noted Ken Holzapfel, a Special School District teacher who works in Ferguson-Florissant, the likelihood of real progress becomes dim.

"All of this stuff costs money," he said. "They've identified the problem, but we didn't get to the moon by sitting around a table and talking about it. Eventually, they put resources into it."

And if the state can't fund schools at the level needed to reach the top 10, he said, maybe the goals need to be scaled back.

"Why not say we can't do this right now," Holzapfel said, "but sit down and figure out what we can do with the resources that we have?"

Added McCoy: "We have the dilemma of making sure we use our money for the right things."

State Sen. Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis, added the perspective of an elected official, saying, "There's not a politician who got elected who didn't make education a priority. But you have got to make the tough choices."

Several of those present noted that while Missouri students are being compared not only with those in other states but with those in other countries, overseas the students being tested often do not make up the entire population but are only those likely to score near the top. Because of that discrepancy, they said, comparisons that make U.S. students look bad can be misleading and unfair.

In general, members of the committee appeared to support the goals that MSIP5 would set, but they had plenty of questions about the best way to reach them.

"MSIP5 gives us a little bit of a strange feeling," said Jim Simpson, superintendent of the Lindbergh School District. "It makes me feel a little like in the curmudgeon camp.

"This plan has a lot of pie-in-the-sky stuff. Let's get an MSIP5 we can all understand and support."

The group made the following criticisms, suggestions and critiques about how to improve the plan:

  • Nurture family support for students
  • Foster learning at the pre-kindergarten level
  • Coordinate better with colleges and universities
  • Help students discover their passion for learning
  • Give more attention to arts and physical education
  • Develop students' problem-solving skills
  • Remove cultural biases of the Missouri Assessment Program
  • End social promotion
  • Make sure that data used to make comparisons are truly comparable
  • Include measures of resources and processes, like before, and not just student achievement
  • Stop piling assessments on top of the tests that students already take

As Holzapfel put it:
"From January to March, in my room instruction shuts down. I'm just doing assessments."

At the end of the two-and-a-half-hour session, Vandeven noted that she was there to listen to the concerns and comments, which will be posted online, and not respond at this point. Responses and further work will come later, at two more sessions for the St. Louis regional committee scheduled for July 5 and 18.

Similar sessions are being held in Kansas City, Springfield, Poplar Bluff and Moberly.

Until then, she urged members of the audience to think about what can be done at the state level that will help improve performance of Missouri students — which, Vandeven noted, is the reason for the whole exercise in the first place.

"We all want to do what is best for kids in this state," she said. "I believe that to the core."

MSIP-5

Performance Standards For K-12 Districts

1. Academic Achievement -- The district administers assessments required by the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) to measure academic achievement and demonstrate improvement in the performance of its students over time.

1. Student performance on assessments required by the MAP meets or exceeds the state standard or demonstrates improvement in performance over time.

2. The percent of students tested on each required MAP assessment meets or exceeds the state standard.

3. Growth data indicate that students meet or exceed growth expectations.

2. Subgroup Achievement -- The district demonstrates required improvement in student performance for its subgroups.

1. The performance of students identified on each assessment in identified subgroups, including free or reduced price lunch, racial/ethnic background, English language learners, students with disabilities, and gender subgroups, meets or exceeds the state standard or demonstrates required improvement.

3. College and Career Readiness -- The district provides adequate post-secondary preparation for all students.

1. The percent of students who score at or above the state standard on the ACT(R), SAT(R), COMPASS(R), or Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) assessments meets or exceeds the state standard or demonstrates required improvement.

2. The district's average ACT(R) and/or SAT(R) composite score(s) meets or exceeds the state standard or demonstrates required improvement.

3. The percent of students participating in the ACT(R) and/or SAT(R) meets or exceeds the state standard or demonstrates required improvement.

4. The percent of students who earn a qualifying score on an Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), or Technical Skills Attainment (TSA) assessment and/or receive college credit through early college or dual enrollment in approved courses meets or exceeds the state standard or demonstrates required improvement.

5. The percent of students who attend post-secondary education/training or are in the military within six (6) months of graduating meets the state standard or demonstrates required improvement.

4. Attendance Rate -- The district ensures all students regularly attend school.

1. The percent of students who regularly attend school meets or exceeds the state standard or demonstrates required improvement.

5. Graduation Rate -- The district ensures all students successfully complete high school.

1. The percent of students who complete an educational program that meets the graduation requirements as established by the board meets or exceeds the state standard or demonstrates required improvement.

Performance Standards For K-8 Districts

1. Academic Achievement -- The district administers assessments required by the MAP to measure academic achievement and demonstrates improvement in the performance of its students over time.

1. Student performance on assessments required by the MAP meets or exceeds the state standard or demonstrates improvement in performance over time.

2. The percent of students tested on each required MAP assessment meets or exceeds the state standard.

3. Growth data indicate that students meet or exceed growth expectations.

2. Subgroup Achievement -- The district demonstrates required improvement in student performance for its subgroups.

1. The performance of students identified on each assessment in identified subgroups, including free or reduced price lunch, racial/ethnic background, and gender subgroups, meets or exceeds the state standard or demonstrates required improvement.

3. High School Readiness -- The district provides adequate post-elementary preparation for all students.

1. The percent of students who earn a proficient score on one (1) or more of the high school end-of-course assessments while in elementary school meets or exceeds the state standard or demonstrates required improvement.

4. Attendance Rate -- The district ensures all students regularly attend school.

1. The percent of students who regularly attend school meets or exceeds the state standard or demonstrates required improvement.

From the Proposed Rule (PDF) at DESE's MSIP-5 page

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