All-out efforts by Kansas City Public Schools last year to substantially raise student academic performance appear to have fallen short, based on the results of standardized tests released Monday.
But turmoil at the state level is making it hard to gauge how area school districts and charter schools are actually faring.
The Missouri Assessment Program exams that the students took in the spring of this year were different from the tests students took the year before. , Third- through eighth-grade students statewide will take a different test with a new set of assessments in the spring of 2016, and then yet another set of exams the following year.
Incredibly, the state won’t be able to gather measurable assessments under new state learning standards until the spring of 2017 at the earliest.
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Much of the confusion is being caused by interference from the Missouri General Assembly into matters that should be the purview of the state Board of Education.
Responding to anxieties over Missouri’s use of a set of learning standards known as the Common Core, legislators ordered the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to dump a set of exams it had purchased from a test developer and come up with its own test.
That will take awhile, so the state will purchase placeholder exams from another company next year while working on a new test for two years out.
Education department officials suggested Monday that the scores of districts could be compared with statewide scores, which were made public last week. Using that data, the Kansas City Public Schools fared poorly.
The district was trying to move the needle on stubbornly low scores, especially in English language arts. The latest test showed 32.4 percent of elementary and middle school students as proficient and advanced in that category.
District officials see that as a 5 percent improvement over 2014 with an arguably more difficult set of tests. But statewide, 59.7 percent of elementary and middle school students were proficient or advanced in English language arts. District students also fell significantly below the state average in testing for math, science and social studies.
Hickman Mills, the other area school district trying to regain full accreditation, posted scores slightly above Kansas City’s but well below the state average.
In other area districts, results generally reflected income demographics. Liberty, North Kansas City, Park Hill, Lee’s Summit and Blue Springs school districts exceeded statewide scores.
This was the first year the MAP tests were given online, which may have worked against some low-income students who are less computer-proficient.
Kansas City school officials said the results showed that they have more work to do. “We’re optimistic about it and we’re optimistic about our direction,” said Al Tunis, the interim superintendent.
The district in 2014 became provisionally accredited after having lost its accreditation in 2012. It will know in October whether it is eligible for full accreditation.
It is troubling to see Missouri, a state once known for consistent, rigorous testing standards, descend to such chaos.
The astounding lack of clarity at the state level makes it all the more important for local district leaders to set high academic expectations for students, and to support teachers as they work to reach those goals.