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Missouri student test scores improve, but not to pre-pandemic levels

David Medina Hernandez and Angie Quiles Rivera, both 8, work on Spanish phonetics last spring.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
David Medina Hernandez and Angie Quiles Rivera work on Spanish phonetics last spring at Marion Elementary School in Overland.

Missouri students are not performing academically at pre-pandemic levels, but student assessment scores last year increased over the year before.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released the 2021-22 preliminary grade level and end-of-course assessment scores Tuesday during the state board of education meeting.

Overall, students improved their math and science test scores, but their social studies proficiency levels slightly declined. English language arts results varied across grade levels.

The coronavirus pandemic is still presenting challenges for students and teachers, said Shaun Bates, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education assessment director.

“We know that classrooms don't always have a teacher there or [they have] discipline issues,” Bates said. “We know that these things are still occurring, their teachers are struggling, they're dealing with fatigue.”

The annual report highlighted data from elementary and high school English Language Arts, English II, Biology, Algebra I and Government state exams. The department also released math test score data for third through eighth grades and science assessment data for fifth through eighth grades. Optional courses in math, science and social studies were also highlighted.

During the 2021-22 school year, 43% of Missouri students performed above or at grade level in English language arts. Forty percent of students tested advanced or proficient in social studies, while math was at 39% and science at 38%.

Bates said the pandemic caused a greater loss in math instructional time compared to English language arts. There was also a loss in instructional time in virtual or distance learning compared to hybrid or in-classroom instruction.

Despite periods of classroom disruption because of quarantines or absent children or teachers, more students tested this school year than last year.

“Districts and charter schools across the state continued to face unique challenges during the 2021-22 school year while working hard to focus on the well-being and academic success of students,” said Margie Vandeven, commissioner of education, in a statement. “Nothing about this past school year was typical.”

Although the data show gaps in proficiency and advanced levels between African American students and other students, officials said that students of all races are affected by the pandemic and that schools will support students with more resources this year.

DESE officials plan to provide more teachers with training to support early foundational reading. They are also working on a math initiative that will award training scholarships to math teachers so they can help students gain a deeper understanding.

“It's really getting to the fluency, and understanding what numbers, base 10, means, and being able to analyze all of the mathematics and understanding the mathematics,” Bates said. “And not just in a textbook way.”

The department will also bring in more counselors to better address students' emotional and social needs.

“One counselor can't cover them all," Bates said. "The teachers were actually carrying a lot of that load to support our kids.”

Follow Andrea on Twitter:@drebjournalist

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.