Missouri School Districts Team Up to Rework State Tests

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Dozens of Missouri school districts are banding together in an attempt to reform the state's standardized tests.

This new consortium of schools, called the Missouri Assessment Partnership, hopes to change a number of features about the annual testing ritual.

For one, schools don’t know how well they did on state tests until the next school year, as much as half a year afterward. Last year, state tests were given in spring and official results were released in November.

By that time, most students had moved on to the next grade and many weren't in the same school or district. That makes it difficult for educators to use the test results to target what students need help with or to adjust their teaching. Instead, test scores are used primarily to label schools as high-performing or low-performing, said Keith Marty, superintendent of the Parkway School District.

“The statewide tests and a lot of tests that go on aren’t really about student learning,” Marty said. “It’s really about sorting.”

Testing students throughout the school year, rather than once toward the end of the year, could emphasize student growth rather than a simple measure of whether a student is proficient in a test subject, said Mike Fulton, superintendent of the Pattonville School District, who has led the effort to reform state assessments.

When asked whether having multiple tests through the year would introduce more testing fatigue on students, Fulton and Marty said they think such an approach would reduce the amount of practice testing and make the state tests more useful for improving student learning.

Some school leaders advocate for measuring growth because students start school at vastly different academic levels. Looking only at a student’s test scores each spring could present an incomplete picture.

“Every child experiences life differently. Some kids will walk into kindergarten already knowing how to read, other kids will walk into kindergarten not yet knowing their alphabet,” Fulton said. “This simply says we understand that we’re going to take you from where you’re at and we’re going to help you work toward this important readiness target of high school course readiness.”

Missouri currently factors in student improvement over time on its annual report cards for schools, but the way progress is calculated and presented is difficult for the general public to understand, Fulton said.

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Leaders of about 50 Missouri school districts have said they plan to sign up for the partnership, Fulton said. Those districts represent about 240,000 students, or roughly a quarter of Missouri students. The partnership grew out of a Missouri Association of School Administrators task force that set out to change the way Missouri tests students and grades public schools.

Each participating district will pay $2 per student enrolled in annual membership fees to be included in the Missouri Assessment Partnership. Large districts can request to have their membership fees capped at $15,000 if they pledge to contribute administrative support or other help to the partnership. The membership fees will pay for consortium staff and logistical costs.

The partnership is tentatively set to officially launch in July. Partnership leaders hope to pilot a new assessment system as soon as fall 2019 with the hope of seeing a new assessment system established statewide by 2023.

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