Testing changes heard by Missouri Senate panel

With just over a week to go in this year’s legislative session, state Rep. Dale Wood, R-Versailles, asked the Senate’s Education Committee Tuesday afternoon to endorse his bill for improving the way public school students learn.

The Missouri House passed the bill April 17 on a 137-9 vote.

“This is a compilation of our education tour this summer,” Wood explained. “Several things were brought up as we traveled across the state, and this is an attempt to address some of those issues.”

Much of the bill focuses on changes in state-required testing of students’ learning. Wood is a former mathematics and computer science teacher and member of the House Interim Committee on Education.

The State Board of Education’s 2010 vote to be part of the now-controversial Common Core national standards includes an agreement to be part of the national Smarter Balanced testing consortium, but Wood’s bill generally prohibits the state and the Elementary and Secondary Education department (DESE) from contracting with an out-of-state company to develop and implement a statewide assessment, after June 30, 2017.

“With the testing we have coming up being computerized, and the amount of bandwidth we would have for the school districts, that they will move the computer testings back to the state of Missouri by 2017,” he told the Senate committee, “and they’re going to work on making the testing throughout the year, rather than being an accumulative test at the end of the year.”

Wood said that would give the state more control over testing.

“As you teach a subject, the best time to test on that subject is right when you’ve covered the material — not nine months later,” he said, noting that students’ test “scores will improve, teachers will have more time in the classroom and you won’t have to take all that time out at the end of the year.

“It also relieves a lot of the budget, with buying new computers and increasing bandwidth, because you do it throughout the year, you can schedule lab time with your existing infrastructure.”

Current policies require elementary students to take tests in math and communication arts (English) every year, but high school students must take “end of course” exams to show what they’ve learned.

Wood’s bill limits the number of those end-of-course exams to the five now required, and prohibits adding additional ones.

“This is, again, trying to keep teachers in the classroom, teaching, and not worrying about the testing near as much,” he said.

He also would prevent gathering more information about teachers and students, limiting the data collected with testing to what’s being gathered now.

And he would require DESE to “come up with a plan to implement the competency-based promotion, and not social promotion,” Wood said, “to where, when the student learns and masters the objective, then they can move on.

“This not only helps the slower students — and we make sure they know what they need to know by a certain age — we also get to speed-along those students who are doing extremely well.”

The bill also would require DESE to give districts more credit in the new, MSIP 5 accreditation program, if they have full-day kindergarten programs like Jefferson City began several years ago.

No one opposed the bill, and representatives for all three teachers groups said they liked parts of it.

The committee will have to meet one more time to recommend full Senate debate on the measure.

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