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Testing changes should help schools achieve better results

Ohanian Comment; So do we applaud the machinations or demand they stick to something called Standards?

Testing changes should help schools achieve better results. How many bureaucrats/testacrats/Standardistos ask if kids are better off?

by Josh Hester

Proposed changes in the way the state will assess students through standardized tests that may result in better scores for Rolla students, officials say.

“What has occurred is that the state has written new guidelines because of No Child Left Behind,” said Dr. Jerry Giger, Rolla schools assistant superintendent. “As a result of the new guidelines, new grade level expectations and new tests were written.”

The state Board of Education will consider a plan next month to revise the way the state grades Missouri Assessment Program tests. At issue is how well students must do to be considered “proficient” or better in a subject.

“Some of the current MAP standards are unrealistically high, and we are ready to address that concern,” state Education Commissioner D. Kent King said Monday. “Our challenge is to find the appropriate balance. We want to establish standards that are right for kids, realistic, and will help us keep pushing for higher student achievement.”

About 100 educators and citizens met earlier this month with state education officials to come up with the recommended grading changes. The revisions were prompted largely by a 2004 state law requiring the MAP standards to be more closely aligned with those used by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

In some cases, Missouri’s current standards are tougher than those used for the national test. In other cases, they are similar.

Here’s an example of how the proposed change would work: About 15 percent of Missouri eighth-graders scored “proficient” or “advanced” in math last year on the MAP test. On the NAEP test, about 26 percent reached that mark. The proposed grading standards for the MAP test are intended so that 40 percent of eighth-graders would score “proficient” or “advanced” in math.

In that example, Missouri’s standards would go from being tougher to being easier than those used on the national test.

“There’s no question Missouri is lowering its standards,” J. Martin Rochester, a professor of political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis who follows education issues, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a story Sunday.

“The state is not making the test easier,” Giger said. “What has happened is that the grading system used to have five levels and because of state legislation, it now has four.

“The four remaining have been adjusted to fill the span of the eliminated level. The ‘new’ levels might be a bit lower than before, but the testing content is more defined.”

Supporters of the changes acknowledge that more students could end up passing state exams, even though student performance would not necessarily improve. But they say Missouri still would have rigorous standards.

Sonya Land, who heads the math department at Hazelwood Central High School, is one of the educators who helped come up with the recommended changes. She said Missouri’s high school math tests perhaps have been too tough. She cites examples of students failing the MAP test but still passing the national Advanced Placement exams that earn them college credit.

Under the proposed changes, “I think high expectations will still be there, but I think it will be more realistic,” Land told the Post-Dispatch.

The definition of proficiency on the MAP tests also ties into the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires all children to be proficient in reading and math by 2014 but lets states define their own proficiency standards. Public schools that do not make satisfactory progress toward that goal could face penalties.

Whether schools reach the 100 percent proficiency mark remains to be seen, but Giger thinks that the new testing procedures will at least help the Rolla School District.

Beginning in April of 2006, all third through eighth grade students will be tested in math and communication arts, and all sophomores will be tested in math and juniors in communication arts.

In 2008, the state will begin a new science assessment in fifth, eighth and eleventh grades, but the state still has not made a decision on the social studies assessment.

“The Education Commissioner has put in a request for funding for the social studies assessment,” Giger said. “He’s just waiting for the legislature, which you would think would want students to know about history, politics and government.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

— Josh Hester
Rolla Daily News


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