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Missouri House panel discusses alternative testing, accreditation approaches

by Anna Campbell | February 23, 2023 at 4:01 a.m.

There's some wiggle room in the way Missouri does testing and accreditation, one legislator told the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education on Wednesday.

And perhaps Missouri should explore a different way of doing things, said Rep. Paula Brown, D-Hazelwood.

HB 49, sponsored by Brown, would make changes to the way districts are accredited and the way students are tested.

The Missouri School Improvement Program, or MSIP, is a mechanism that the state education department uses to make recommendations for accrediting Missouri schools. The State Board of Education then reviews those recommendations for approval. Under HB 49, school districts could choose to use either MSIP or a national accrediting agency.

"The current system known as MSIP right now is in its sixth generation, and if you ask the teachers, many principals and many school board members across the state, they would say that not much has changed because of MSIP," Brown said. "We know stuff -- it's not that MSIP isn't telling us things -- it's just not informing instruction maybe the way it should."

The federal government requires 17 assessments from grades 3-8 and high school covering language arts, math and science, Brown said, but the federal government does not dictate what the tests must be used for.

"The current assessment tool does not inform instruction on a daily level," she said. "So at the end of the year, the next teacher can't look at individual kids and say to you, 'This is where we need to really focus on their education and this is where they already know it and we don't have to put as much time into it.'"

Brown's bill calls for changes to the focus of statewide testing known as the Missouri Assessment Program, or MAP.

Assessment results don't necessarily indicate whether a student is performing at grade level, Brown said.

"At this point, we still do not have a solid definition of what grade level is in the state of Missouri," she said.

Her bill specifies that the statewide assessment system should be "student-centered," use assessments "across the school year" and support teaching, learning and program improvement. It must also show how a student compares to grade level, show skill evolution, and measure growth during and across years.

"Do you know that only half the states in the United States accredit schools?" Brown asked. "And a bunch of those that accredit schools don't use a final test score to do it. I think that's why this bill is bigger than it may appear on paper, because they're rolled in together in the state of Missouri, right, and we have an opportunity to either change that or fix that. That's what I'm attempting to do."

Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, D-Kansas City, said the focus in Missouri has been on testing rather than student learning.

"I think this is one of the most important things we can do to retain good teachers in the classroom," Nurrenbern said.

Mike Lodewegen of MCSA said that every time a new iteration of MSIP is created, it seems that the focus on testing grows greater.

"It is no question that teachers are frustrated with the situation that they are in given the system that we have created," he said. "It was unfortunate that we weren't able to dig into some of these subjects as a part of the study of teacher recruitment and retention over the summer, but it is absolutely necessary."

The head of the state education department testified for informational purposes.

"The department remains committed to exploring options to redesign the statewide assessment system," said Commissioner Margie Vandeven of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

"If moving in this direction of this bill, I would like ... the committee to consider an implementation challenge that I do see might produce unintended results, and that is that the bill calls for multiple methods of accrediting schools and LEAs, allowing districts the opportunity to seek accreditation for multiple entities and only having to obtain it from one," she said, adding it makes for a comparison that is not "apples to apples."

And although federal law does not dictate how test scores must be used, Vandeven said, it does require that the state "assess every child at grade-level on the same standards using the same assessments."

The bill was supported by the Missouri National Education Association, Missouri State Teachers Association and the Missouri Council of School Administrators.

The committee also heard HB 497, sponsored by Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly, which would revive a previously unfunded scholarship program he would rename the "Teacher Recruitment and Retention State Scholarship Program."

The program would cover the full tuition and fees of up to 100 college students looking to become teachers who already have completed at least two years of college or earned an associate's or bachelor's degree, provided that they agree to teach in "hard to staff" schools or subject areas for two years per year they receive the scholarship.

If they fail to teach in one of those areas, the scholarship will become a loan that must be repaid.

The committee also passed HB 827, a bill intended to be a "fix" to the way that virtual school enrollment has been carried out.

HB 49: Changes provisions governing the statewide assessment system

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