State exam gives ‘C’ to Jefferson City Public Schools

JC schools score 77 percent

Students in Sara Borgmeyer’s West School first grade class raise their hands to answer questions during math class.

Students in Sara Borgmeyer’s West School first grade class raise their hands to answer questions during math class. Photo by Julie Smith.

According to the state of Missouri’s latest accountability measures for education, the Jefferson City School District would be a high “C” student.

The district earned 108 out of 140 total points possible — 77.1 percent — on the Missouri School Improvement Program’s 2013 annual performance report. The program is called “MSIP 5” because it’s the fifth cycle of the state’s system for accrediting public schools, something Missouri has been doing since the early 1990s. However, because it’s the first year of the latest cycle, it represents a whole new way evaluating and setting goals for schools.

In a ranking of the academic success of 50 U.S. states, the program is designed to push Missouri into one of the Top 10 slots by the year 2020.

This year, officials with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education calculated a numerical score for five areas: academic achievement; subgroup achievement; college and career readiness; attendance; and graduation rates.

Superintendent Brian Mitchell sees the initial report of the MSIP 5 process as a baseline by which future performances can now be compared.

He noted that if the school were still being evaluated under the MSIP 4 criteria — which was heavily influenced by the No Child Left Behind Law — the district would have performed admirably on 12 out of 14 criteria.

He said it’s hard to compare MSIP 4 standards with MSIP 5, saying it’s not an “apples to apples” equation. But he believes the district is still “performing at the same level.”

“The score at face value ... we’re not pleased at 77 percent,” he said. “It’s not as good as we want it to be. We want 100 percent. That has to be our goal.”

The district is fully accredited.

The MSIP also offers scores at the building level.

Although some schools in the district did quite well — West Elementary earned a 97.1 percent and South Elementary earned a 94.3 percent rating — other buildings struggled.

East Elementary earned only 52.9 percent of the points available.

Jefferson City High School earned a 79.6 percent rating. The two middle schools — Thomas Jefferson and Lewis and Clark — earned scores of 59.3 and 63.6, respectively.

This is the first time annual performance reports are available at the school building level.

JCPS’s academic status

Academically, Jefferson City proved that it is “on track” toward meeting the state’s 2020 goal in the areas of language arts, math and science. It is still approaching that goal in the area of social studies.

Science is a bright spot for the district.

At Jefferson City High School, students have met the 2020 target in the area of science. More than 66 percent of students are considered “proficient” or “advanced” in science, according to 2013 testing results. And although high school students haven’t quite met the 2020 targets for math, their progress was significant last year.

Hoped-for progress didn’t materialize

The new program also measures “progress” by holding school communities accountable for continuous improvement year to year using a rolling average and categorizing them in four ways: “floor,” “approaching,” “on track” and “exceeding.”

Although success glimmers in some of the city’s schools, overall Jefferson City is on the “floor,” seeing less than 1 percent growth in academic scores.

Testing scores actually have slipped backwards in all four areas — language arts, math, science and social studies — between 2011 and 2013. For example, 58.6 percent of English and language arts students scored at “proficient” or “advanced” levels on Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) tests in 2011; by 2013, that percentage had dropped to 55.7 percent. The largest decline was in mathematics, where the number of “proficient” and “advanced” students declined 5.5 percent.

Gaps for some students still exist

The new program also takes a closer look at subgroups of students — English language learners, minorities, children with disabilities and those who qualify for reduced-priced lunches — who historically have struggled to be successful at school.

Under MSIP 5, they have been gathered together into a “super-subgroup” so examiners can see if the achievement gap for these students is narrowing.

Jefferson City is “on track” to meet the state’s goal for these students in the areas of math and science. The district is “approaching” the goal in the area of language arts.

But it is on the “floor” in social studies.

JCPS school officials have not determined yet why social studies — primarily the teaching of history and government — is proving to be a weak area.

Dawn Berhorst and David Luther both work as assistants to Mitchell. Berhorst works closely with assessment topics; Luther handles the district’s public communication.

Berhorst surmised it might be due, in part, to the fact that social studies skills, unlike math or science, aren’t tested until high school.

“The other areas are tested from the third grade,” she said.

Luther was circumspect.

“I don’t know if we can give a definitive answer yet,” he said.

He said it would take time for principals to sit down with teachers to critically examine the data and draw conclusions from it.

College and career readiness

Although the district struggled overall in the “College and Career Ready” category, the number of students who earned qualifying scores on Advanced Placement and Technical Skills Attainment tests was quite high. So was the number of students who earned good grades in dual college enrollment classes. The district earned 9.5 out of 10 points in that category, putting it “on track” to meeting the state’s standard.

However, not enough students performed well enough on the ACT, the SAT or the ASVAB, which measures aptitude for military service, for the district to get high marks in that category. The district earned 6 of 10 points and is still “approaching” the state’s standard.

Luther sees room for improvement.

“Right now, we don’t do as much as we would like for the test itself ... teaching our students how to be strategic test takers, offering tutoring,” he said. “We’ve looked at whether we should be offering these (services). It’s expensive.”

District struggles with attendance rate

When it comes to district-wide attendance, Jefferson City is on track to meet the state standards by 2020, but is still on the floor when it comes to making progress.

How this factor is measured has changed.

“In the past, it’s been the average attendance rate,” explained Berhorst.

Now schools must show if 90 percent of their students attended class 90 percent of the time.

“It’s a different way of looking at it entirely,” Berhorst said. “When we used the average attendance rate, we would have really good attendees who would mask those students who didn’t have as-stellar records.”

Berhorst said the newer measuring stick made it harder for Jefferson City to earn a great score.

But Luther said administrators understand the reasoning behind the state’s change, because students who fail to attend class regularly miss out on learning and fall behind their peers.

District excels at graduating students

The school district excels at helping students attain their diplomas.

Using data on the number of students who graduate from Jefferson City High School within five years, the district earned 100 percent of the available points in that category, meaning it has met the state’s goal for 2020.

“That was good news for the district,” Luther said. “We are tracking in a very positive direction there.”

He noted principals are making an effort to reach out to families — even visiting them in their homes. And the advisory time set aside at the high school is helping foster better relationships between students and teachers.

“There’s been a real push toward building those relationships with students and families,” he said.

Mitchell said, like the state of Missouri, the faculty and staff for the Jefferson City Public Schools also strive for continual improvement. And so do the students, he added.

He said administrators and faculty “want to set high goals for themselves and work hard toward attaining those goals. And then when we reach them, set new ones,” he said. “And we want our students to do the same thing.

“Quite honestly, it is exciting.”

Missouri School Improvement 2013 Annual Performance Report (APR)

School district / % of possible points earned

Blair Oaks R-2 97.5

Camdenton R-3 96.8

Clarksburg C-2 83.1

Cole Co. R-1 (Russellville) 96.4

Cole Co. R-5 (Eugene) 95.0

Columbia 79.6

Eldon R-1 91.8

Fulton 78.6

High Point R-III 81.9

Jefferson City 77.1

Maries Co. R-1 (Vienna) 88.6

Moniteau Co. R-1 (California) 89.6

New Bloomfield R-3 75.0

Osage Co. R-1 (Chamois) 91.4

Osage Co. R-2 (Linn) 76.4

Osage Co. R-3 (Westphalia) 97.1

Prairie Home 86.5

South Callaway Co. R-2 (Mokane) 91.8

Southern Boone Co. R-1 (Ashland) 94.6

St. Elizabeth 99.3

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