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Missouri School Districts Still Don't Know How Students Did On New Math and English Tests

Elle Moxley
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Public School Superintendent Mark Bedell visited Manual Career and Technical Center on the first day of school in August. Usually, districts have test results to drive decision-making before the start of a new school year.

As Missouri school districts await state test scores they should have received months ago, some administrators said they're getting frustrated with the delay.

“I don’t have the data right now for math and reading to even make a determination as to whether the things we invested in last year are making a difference,” Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell said.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said Tuesday that districts will get their results in December. Annual performance reports, which are used to make accreditation decisions, won’t be publicly available until January or February. That leaves little time to adjust curriculum before testing begins again in the spring, Bedell said.

“From our perspective, these tests are not meant to be used as an instructional tool," DESE spokeswoman Nancy Bowles said. "They’re to see how students across a district and across our state performed based on the Missouri Learning Standards.”

Bowles attributed the delay to the rollout of new tests in math and English language arts — tests that replaced an assessment Missouri used for only two years. Whenever a new test is scored, a panel of teachers and administrators has to determine what range represents proficiency, a process the state refers to as “setting cut scores.” 

But the reality is districts do use the scores to drive decision-making, and it’s not just Bedell who’s getting frustrated with the state.

“For those districts that are waiting on this, they’re going to have to continue the classroom work, they’re going to have to continue the focus on what they’re doing," according to Christopher Hand, the director of assessment for Liberty Public Schools. "The unfortunate thing is they can’t make modifications because they don’t have the data that allows them do that.”

However, Hand noted, delay isn’t affecting Liberty like it would KCPS and other districts awaiting accreditation decisions. The provisionally accredited KCPS needs to show at least two years of progress to regain its standing with the state.

“In a high-stakes testing environment, data is critical,” Bedell said. “That data should be designed to help inform whether your curriculum works. Most people in this state aren’t happy about what’s happening right now, but it really hurts us even more.”

Missouri school districts have seen their preliminary scores on the social studies test, and Bedell is pleased with those results. But for scores in math and English language arts, everyone will have to wait.

Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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