DESE: Test scores raise concerns, but can’t be compared to previous years

(The Center Square) – The leader of Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reused the analogy she mentioned last year to look at student test scores.

“I shared with you the concept of using the data as a flashlight, shedding light on circumstances and providing insight, or we could use it as the hammer, the accountability tool,” DESE Commissioner Margie Vandeven said during a media briefing. “From this pilot release, I would encourage you to continue focusing on the flashlight.”

If using the flashlight, one better have fresh batteries as the new statewide annual performance reports – the Missouri School Improvement Program 6 – will take time before it’s fully implemented. The results don’t carry any weight until the new testing is used for a few years. The last time school districts received a rating was 2018, due to postponement of testing during the pandemic and implementing the new system.

DESE did provide a comparison of the distribution of scores from 2018 and 2022. The new system shows the higher testing standard as the number of school districts that would be accredited provisionally and at risk of losing future accreditation increased from six under the 2018 testing to 112 under 2022 testing.

Vandeven said the results, from testing taken during the 2021-2022 school year, show continued challenges and problems throughout the state.

“What you will see in our data is that many of our systems are stressed and it will take us all working together to meet our vision of improving lives through education,” Vandeven said.

Since this year’s test scores are a pilot, Vandeven discouraged focus on the scores and encouraged people to use test data to find ways to better support student learning. DESE emphasized it’s inaccurate to compare a school district’s 2022 score to previous year since it’s a new system with different scoring. School district accreditation and classification under the new testing will begin in the 2023-2024 school year.

Vandeven encouraged reporters attending a briefing on the test scores last week to review current efforts in school districts and communicate those stories. Vandeven said she went “off script” during the presentation to comment on the mental health needs of children in classrooms.

“In some cases, teachers are telling us that students have become somewhat apathetic, post-pandemic in particular, and sometimes a ‘C’ is acceptable,” Vandeven said. “We can’t have that. We’ve got to keep kids moving forward and one of the ways we do that is by putting that career plan in front of them. Talk about the future, planning for the future and getting excited and hope-filled about the future.”

Vandeven said the one-time infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal pandemic aid sent to school districts last year didn’t influence scores as tests were taken before funds were approved. She said a state program to improve the teaching of reading, funded with federal dollars, will take years to be measurable.

“We’re seeing investments in our educator workforce,” Vandeven said. “But some of the things that were happening in our schools with those investments were one-time solutions.”

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