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New test scores show math is challenge for Missouri students, achievement gap persists

A person filling in a standardized test bubble sheet with a pencil.
Flickr | Alberto G.

Fewer than half of the students in grades five through eight who were tested in Missouri in the spring scored proficient or advanced in math, according to new numbers from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

In English, scores were better, with the percentage of students scoring in the top two categories hovering around 60 percent in grades three through eight.

State education officials say the latest numbers shouldn’t be compared with those from previous years because the English and math tests were new.

But in science, where no changes were made to the test, scores in both grade five and grade eight dropped for the second straight year. In fifth grade, the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced dropped to 42.7 percent, from 47.5 percent last year; in eighth grade, the number fell to 47.8 percent, from 49.4 percent.

And in terms of what commonly is referred to as the achievement gap — performance by students who are black, Hispanic, English language learners, those with disabilities and those from low-income families — the difference between their scores and the scores of Missouri students as a whole remained fairly constant compared with previous years. The trend held true in math, English, science and social studies.

In math, while all students showed a rate of 48.6 percent scoring proficient and advanced, those in the super subgroup were at 35.4 percent. In English, the differential was 62.9 percent for all students compared with 50.3 percent for the super subgroup.

Compared with 2014, the super subgroup was down in math, from 39.6 percent to 35.4 percent this year. In English, the reverse trend was true, with the share moving from 39.6 percent in 2014 to 50.3 percent this year.

Overall, 48.6 percent of Missouri students scored proficient or advanced in math this year, down from 52.4 percent two years ago. In English, students have shown a steady increase, to 62.9 percent this year from 52.6 percent two years ago.

The numbers were released as part of the agenda for next Tuesday’s meeting of the state Board of Education in Jefferson City. Score for individual districts are set to be released on Sept. 29; the scores make up half of the 140 points on a district's annual performance report. Those reports are set to be released on Nov. 7.

Once those scores come out, districts that are on the bubble for possible accreditation changes will have a clearer picture what adjustments may be made. In particular, Riverview Gardens, which continues to be unaccredited, hopes to move up to provisional accreditation if the district's scores continue the upward trend shown in recent years.

The state board is expected to consider possible accreditation changes in December. If Riverview Gardens achieves provisional accreditation, some determination will have to be made about whether its students may continue to transfer elsewhere, as they have been allowed to do under state law.

As tests have changed in Missouri in recent years — first with the adoption of Common Core standards, then with a new law that required the state to find a new testing company, then with the Common Core giving way to new standards drawn up by educators in the state — officials have cautioned that scores are likely to drop.

This year’s change had to do with legislation that mandated the state abandon tests from the Smarter Balanced consortium. Tests will still be based on Common Core, until new tests can be devised, but the tests come from a different vendor.

Tests won’t change this coming year, as districts decide how to put the new state standards into place. Then, more changes will be coming, first in math and English, then in science and finally in social studies.

Last month, assistant education commissioner Chris Neale acknowledged that the frequent changes have made it difficult for the public to get a handle on how Missouri students are doing.

“The changing of assessments is frustrating,” he said, “both to the department and to the field. But in the end, we hope to have a stable and robust system of measurement.

“In terms of learning, I think it’s fair to say that the department is interested not just in standards and assessments, but whatever kinds of actions and policy decisions we might make that would help driving learning for all students in the state.”


Follow Dale on Twitter: @dalesinger

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.