Scores improve, but miss mark

Missouri students scored higher this year on the state’s annual English and math exams, but relatively few school districts met rising federal targets for annual progress.

Test scores released by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on Thursday show a higher percentage of students met the state’s proficiency standards for English and math this year, with 54.6 percent reaching the standard for English and 54.2 percent for math. That is 1 percentage point better in English and 1.5 percentage points better in math than last year.

Margie Vandeven, the assistant commissioner of education, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the improvements show a sustainable trend, but she said only 16 percent of Missouri’s more than 500 school districts met the yearly progress target.

The targets this year in Missouri called for 75.5 percent of students to be proficient in English and 72.5 percent to be proficient in math. The entire student body must meet the targets, and so must each group of students that are identified by ethnicity, family income and special education.

The targets are set to rise every year until 2014 when all students are required to be proficient. Some school officials said the increasing targets have become difficult to reach. Numerous states have worked to develop their own standards for measuring and assessing schools.

The current system “is failing to provide an accurate picture of which schools are truly in need of improvement and which are performing well,” said Brent Ghan, a spokesman for the Missouri School Boards’ Association. He said Missouri schools have continued to improve despite many facing tighter budgets in recent years.

Todd White, the superintendent of the North Kansas City School District, said school officials want to be held accountable, but with better measures in place.

“The general notion is that we are not producing a good product. But our teachers are working extremely hard. The assessments fall short of showing what work our kids can do,” White told the Kansas City Star.

Statewide, around half of elementary and middle school students’ English scores were deemed to be “proficient” or “advanced.” Those scores improved at every grade level among elementary and middle school students.

In math, 50.2 percent of third-graders scored proficient or advanced, compared to 57.5 percent for sixth-graders. The percentage of eighth-grade students that scored proficient or advanced this year declined by 0.5 points, to 51.5 percent.

Scores for science tests in fifth- and eighth-grade were similar, with just over 50 percent scoring proficient or advanced.

Among high school students, just under three-quarters scored proficient or advanced in English — an increase of 1 percentage point — and about 60 percent scored that high in math, which was 2.4 points higher.

The Lindbergh, Clayton, Ladue and Kirkwood districts in the St. Louis-area each had more than 76 percent of their students pass the math and English tests. In Lindbergh, the rate was 79 percent, which was the second-highest combined total after the Davis district in Clinton County, which has one elementary school.

For St. Louis Public Schools, 31 percent of students passed the tests, which was an increase from the 28 percent that did so last year. The urban school district is not accredited.

“I’m glad we’re showing progress, but I can’t say I’m satisfied,” St. Louis Superintendent Kelvin Adams said. “I know without a shadow of a doubt that slow, steady progress means it’s much more likely to be long-term. But you still want to see growth take place faster when you recognize and realize where this district is.”

The percentage of students at Kansas City schools scoring proficient or advanced dropped 1.9 percentage points in English and 2.9 points in math. The biggest drops were in the seventh- and eighth-grades, which were affected by the district’s move to add seventh- and eighth-graders to high schools.

“There are just so many things that had to take place to be in a position to move forward,” said MiUndrae Prince, the chief academic officer for Kansas City.” Now the methodologies are in place. ... It’s about how we take what we’ve learned and move forward.”

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