Missouri releases baffling school performance scores. Does anyone know what they mean?

Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has released results from its annual performance reviews of schools in the state.

Parents, students, teachers and administrators use the Annual Progress Report to judge the quality of teaching in a district or school, and to look for areas that need improvement. They’re a big deal.

Sadly, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education gets a D for its report this year — not because the results are good or bad, necessarily, but because the results are nearly indecipherable.

For years, the state issued numerical results. In 2018, for example, Kansas City Public Schools achieved an APR score of 99.5 points out of a possible 120, or 83%. The results are a combination of test scores, attendance, graduation rates and student readiness for college or a career.

The system wasn’t perfect. But it allowed parents and school officials to quickly understand successes and failures in districts and charter schools, and to make informed enrollment decisions.

This year, a new system for reporting summary results has been implemented. There are four broad categories: “floor,” “approaching,” “on track,” and “exceeding.” The state uses complicated formulas to determine which categories apply to which districts.

Easy-to-understand scores are out.

Progress difficult to track

The Kansas City district, for example, is at the “floor” for mathematics, but “approaching” the desired level of progress, because it’s “on track” for test score growth.

The Oak Grove district, on the other hand, is “on track” for math scores, but at the “floor” for progress because it’s at the “floor” for growth.

Confused? Almost certainly. The system seems designed to befuddle even the most committed parents.

Department of Elementary and Secondary Education officials say the underlying numbers will still be available, and the color-coded system is designed to give parents and taxpayers a quicker, broader look at a district’s or school’s performance.

But that information will be of little help to parents who don’t understand the context, or lack the time or resources to further investigate results.

Imagine your child bringing home a report card with “floor” for a math grade, or “approaching.” You wouldn’t know what that means, without lots of additional work.

Letter grades and percentages mean something.

The limits of benchmarks

Standardized student tests are unreliable enough. The tests change. Teaching methods and benchmarks change. They’re an imperfect tool for gauging achievement.

But annual reports are completely useless if the results are so opaque that no one can understand them. Most Missourians now find themselves in that place.

We urge state officials to revisit this decision, and to publish easily understandable results for districts and schools. If the data exist, as the department claims, putting information in a searchable, understandable digital format seems easy enough.

All Missourians deserve to know how their schools are doing. There’s still a chance for the state to improve its “D” grade for school reports.

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