Missouri lawmakers, education stakeholders discuss potential revamp of state tests, education style

Missouri legislators and education stakeholders discussed the possibilities for reworking the state's assessment system and implementing different education formats at a meeting Tuesday.

The Interim Senate Education Committee heard from representatives of the Success-Ready Student Work Group, which is made up of more than 100 stakeholders who began meeting in January to put together recommendations for the State Board of Education regarding competency-based learning which could also provide input in the design of a new statewide assessment system.

Competency-based education is a system in which students move through content by demonstrating their mastery of it rather than according to age and time spent on a subject.

Committee Chair Sen. Karla Eslinger, R-Wasola, was optimistic about the work group's efforts.

"The combination of the Success-Ready Student Work Group and this grant opportunity positions, I believe, Missouri to have a real chance to improve our assessment process and this new model will allow students to demonstrate competencies throughout the year, painting a better picture of where students are achieving year-round," Eslinger said.

The grant Eslinger referenced is for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's Pathways for Instructionally Embedded Assessment, or PIE project. DESE recently received more than $2.5 million from the U.S. Department of Education for the project.

The PIE project will create prototype tests that will be woven into lessons and implemented formally in end-of-year assessments. Embedding assessments into learning allows researchers and teachers to see students' competencies while they learn and collect data that could be used for statewide assessment purposes, according to the announcement of the grant.

One question the Success-Ready Student Work Group faced was: How can the assessment system (including MAP) be redesigned to support student mastery of priority standards ensuring high school, college, career, and workplace readiness and meets federal requirements?

The Missouri Assessment Program, commonly called the MAP test, is a statewide assessment that fulfills federal data requirements, but Missouri does have some autonomy about what the test looks like, said Pam Hedgpeth, who facilitated the work group.

"So does that mean doing away with the MAP test at the end of the year?" asked Sen. Elaine Gannon, R-De Soto.

"We're looking for a reimagined assessment system," Hedgepeth responded.

Eslinger said the state still needs to collect data from certain subjects and grade levels, as it does with the MAP test, but the state is looking at different ways to provide that data.

Some states have taken steps to change the way they do assessments. Some emerging assessment designs include instructionally embedded assessments (such as the PIE project), performance assessments (in which students demonstrate a skill) and replacement of traditional graduation requirements.

The recommendations from the work group's meetings since January were:

• Develop policy that supports competency-based learning.

• Build a competency-based assessment.

• Build a revised accreditation system.

• Launch an "Innovation Zone" to implement new practices.

• Expand ability for school districts to partner with businesses in learning experiences.

• Model stakeholder engagement and good communication.

Eslinger said discussion of competency-based learning and assessments was essential to the committee members' efforts in legislating about education.

"We've got to know whether we're getting the job done," Eslinger said. "And how else do we know if we're getting the job done unless we have a real ... measure of the amount of learning and whether we've met a standard, and whether we've communicated that to the people who are investing in our children?"