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Lee's Summit and other Missouri school districts ask for exemption from state standardized tests

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The school districts want to use a new state law to get out of the Missouri standardized testing and accountability system. Several Kansas City-area districts have asked for an exemption from the Missouri Assessment Program, including Lee's Summit, Liberty and Raymore-Peculiar.

A group of Missouri school districts is asking for an exemption from the state’s standardized testing and accountability system.

At Tuesday’s state board of education meeting, 20 school districts asked to use a new Missouri law for the first time to get out of the state’s accountability system and instead use a different set of tests and success measures.

The group of districts wants to reimagine testing and accountability systems for schools. The educators hope this pilot waiver could eventually lead to a statewide overhaul in how students are tested and schools are then held accountable.

The districts are asking to move away from the Missouri Assessment Program, Missouri’s annual standardized test, which school leaders say was designed to provide feedback at a high level but doesn’t effectively give information on what individual students need.

“When you think of our current state test, it would be what I would call an autopsy,” said Tony Lake, superintendent of Lindbergh Schools. “You've done the whole school year, you've done all of this, and then you're going to do this test at the end of the year. And then you're going to get the results back sometime in mid- to late fall. Well, the kid’s already gone on to the next grade level. They haven't used any of that data really to help that individual student.”

The schools would like to instead use a system that would administer tests multiple times each year and provide data immediately. District leaders say the real-time feedback gives students and teachers actionable information to use to improve.

“We need new tools,” said Jenny Ulrich, superintendent of the Lonedell School District. “That's what we're asking for. We're asking for the ability to use leading indicators versus lagging indicators. We would like to have data in real time to help drive instructional decisions for our kids.”

The districts will need a federal waiver to stop administering the MAP tests, on top of the waivers they are requesting from the state laws. They plan to ask for that, but if waivers are not granted, students in these districts will continue to take MAP tests in addition to the more regular tests.

This is the first time education agencies have tried to use the new Missouri law that allows for “innovation waivers.” In the 2022 legislative session, state lawmakers gave the Missouri Board of Education the power to grant school districts exemptions to state education laws or regulations for up to three years.

The school districts asking for the waiver are located across the state and vary in size and demographics, including rural, suburban and urban districts and a charter school network. The school agencies asking for this standardized test exemption are Affton, Branson, Center, Confluence Academies, Fayette, Lebanon, Lee’s Summit, Lewis County, Liberty, Lindbergh, Lonedell, Mehlville, Neosho, Ozark, Parkway, Pattonville, Raymore-Peculiar, Ritenour, Ste. Genevieve and Shell Knob.

“We want to make sure that as we go through this work, that we are honoring all children in Missouri and coming up with approaches that meet all of their needs,” said Mike Fulton, facilitator with the Success-Ready Students Network, which is bringing the districts together to develop this program. The initiative received financial support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to organize this effort.

At Tuesday’s board of education meeting, officials from the districts presented their plan and answered questions. Multiple state board members said they were excited about the idea and supportive of it. The board of education will vote on the plan its August meeting.

Copyright 2023 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Kate Grumke reports on the environment, climate and agriculture for St. Louis Public Radio and Harvest Public Media. Email Kate at kgrumke@stlpr.org.
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