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Missouri standardized tests count this year, but schools won’t be punished for low scores

David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri's education leaders say standardized tests will be back to normal this year, but will not be used in the same way they were before the pandemic as officials transition to a new accountability program.

After two years of disrupted standardized testing, Missouri’s tests will be closer to normal this spring.

In early April, students will begin taking grade-level tests. The scores will be used in Missouri’s School Improvement Program, the state's accountability system, though they won’t yet be used in the same way they were pre-pandemic.

In spring 2020, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education canceled standardized testing, which was to begin soon after the pandemic shut down in-person learning. The majority of Missouri students took the tests as planned last year, but the state did not use the results for accountability measures like accreditation.

This year’s tests will be similar to those administered before the pandemic for both students and school officials, said Noah Devine, a Missouri School Improvement Program support facilitator with DESE.

“It's just how it's being used that’s really the big change,” Devine said.

The test results will be used as starting data to measure how schools progress in the future, but unlike in previous years, results will not be used to punish districts on measures like accreditation.

“The data will be used as a baseline, however, it's not through a punitive lens,” said Tracy Hinds, deputy commissioner in the Division of Learning Services at DESE. “No district will go down based off of the performance of their students; it can only help.”

That doesn’t mean all schools are protected from changes to their accreditation status. Superintendent certification, financial issues and other factors can still impact accreditation for school districts and charters.

Changing state measures

Missouri is currently rolling out the newest version of the Missouri School Improvement Program. The public comment period will remain open through March 25, with public hearings scheduled for May and August.

Since the 1990s, Missouri has used testing data and other measures to score the performance of school districts and charters and make decisions about accreditation. It took about five years to develop this latest update to the program, and the state Board of Education approved the new changes in February 2020.

One of the biggest changes in the new system is a focus on what the state is calling “continuous improvement.” It now considers measures such as a district or charter’s own plan for improvement, along with the results from culture and climate surveys of students, families, teachers and staff.

“While most of our conversation has focused on the performance aspect, there are also other elements to creating a healthy school system,” Hinds said. “We want all of our schools, all of our students, to always be continuously growing and improving.”

Improvement and growth are some of the best measures of school performance, said Evan Rhinesmith, executive director of St. Louis University’s PRiME Center, a nonpartisan research group that is studying growth in Missouri schools.

“It's sort of been a consensus that looking at growth is more important than looking at achievement levels,” Rhinesmith said. “For achievement, you're taking into account everything that that student brings with them to school every single day, be that socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity.”

Grade-level testing begins on April 4 in Missouri schools.

Follow Kate on Twitter: @KGrumke

Kate Grumke covers the environment, climate and agriculture for St. Louis Public Radio and Harvest Public Media.