Festus R-6 was the only school district in Jefferson County to reach the highest level in English and math on the state’s revamped Annual Performance Report (APR), which was released last month.
The report uses four levels to categorize student achievement on the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) standardized test taken during the 2018-2019 school year, with the highest level called “target,” the next called “on track,” followed by “approaching” and then “floor,”which is the lowest level.
Eight school districts were on track to reach the top level in English – Crystal City, Dunklin R-5, Fox C-6, Hillsboro R-3, Jefferson R-7, Northwest R-1, Sunrise R-9 and Windsor C-1.
The De Soto and Grandview R-2 school districts were in the approaching category in English.
In math, seven districts were on track – Crystal City, Fox, Hillsboro, Jefferson, Northwest, Sunrise and Windsor.
Three districts were approaching the top level in math – De Soto, Dunklin and Grandview.
None of the county’s school districts fell into the bottom category on the scale in English or math.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released the APR on Oct. 17.
This year’s reports eliminated the previous system of announcing point totals, and instead created the four-level scale to rate the MAP scores, as well as attendance rates. For high schools, the APR also looks at graduation rates and career and college readiness.
Nine of the school districts in the county scored above the state average of 341.2 on the 500-point APR scale for English, with Festus leading the way at 391.6, followed by Sunrise (370.4), Fox (369), Crystal City (368), Jefferson (364.5), Windsor (363.1), Dunklin (359.1), Northwest (353.9) and Hillsboro (351.4).
Two district were below the state average – De Soto (333.6) and Grandview (340.1) in English.
Nine of the districts also were above the state average of 313.6 on the 500-point APR scale for math, including Festus (380.4), Windsor (345.5), Fox (344.4), Sunrise (344.1), Northwest (334.6), Jefferson (327.1), Hillsboro (326.4), Crystal City (322.3) and Grandview (316).
Two districts also were below the state average in math – De Soto (310.7) and Dunklin (305.4) were below the state average.
The MAP data released with the APR also showed that more than half of the students in nine of the county’s 11 districts are performing at or above grade level in reading.
Science is usually part of the MAP testing, but because the state was using a new science test for a second year in a row, those scores were not included in this year’s APR.
DESE also implemented a new social studies test, so it was not a factor in this year’s APR either.
Northwest Superintendent Desi Kirchhofer said the APR isn’t the only gauge of student success.
“This isn’t the end all be all,” he said. “(The APR) is a snapshot of where schools are. As a county, I believe Jefferson County has a lot to be proud of, everybody is in the realm of doing well.”
Festus Superintendent Link Luttrell said he is thrilled to see his district continue to do well on the APR and MAP test.
“We are happy we are in the target (category),” Luttrell said. “I think it is evident that we have a culture of high expectations here because of the fact that we have annually come to display that our students perform well.”
The Festus district’s consistency was most evident in its students’ MAP math score, which was the same, 62.7 percent, over the past two school years.
“I had to check those when I did the calculation myself,” Luttrell said. “The test questions might have changed from one year to the next, but the standards didn’t. We kept our curriculum the same, so our students were prepared. I think that is what you see pretty much year in and year out. We have pretty steady performance overall.”
Festus did see a slight downturn on the English test, decreasing from 65.6 in this year’s report, after scoring 66.8 the previous year. The 1.2 percent decline is not something that signals the need to drastically change how the district is approaching the subject, Luttrell said.
“Our philosophy is we do not make major curriculum decisions based on one year of data,” he said. “If there are three straight years of being on a steady decline or four of five years we had a decline, that is when we look at it and ask, ‘Why is this? What is wrong with our curriculum? What might we want to start looking at to turn this around?’ We also don’t get too excited from one year to the next if we had a big jump.”
The largest school district in the county, Fox, which had 11,286 students last school year, saw its MAP scores in English and math scores fall for a third straight year.
This year, Fox scored a 54.3 in English, down from 58.3 the previous year. The district scored a 47 in math this year, down from a 50.2 the previous year.
Declan FitzPatrick, Fox executive director of curriculum and instruction, said the recent slip in scoring is not a reason to panic, but the district is addressing the situation.
“We work constantly to make sure our kids are improving every year,” FitzPatrick said. “We will look at next year’s data to see if this continues. It has to not continue, but it is not a crisis because we are doing what we need to do. We are getting our kids into college and the work force in jobs that can be a career, and we have good information that shows us that is happening.”
FitzPatrick and Fox Superintendent Nisha Patel pointed to the district’s score on the APR that shows 97.5 percent of students were ready to either attend a four-year or two-year postsecondary education program, join the military or become employed after graduating from high school.
“I believe the heart and soul of our schools is to develop our kids’ potential,” Patel said. “When I saw our scores and that 97.5 percent of our kids were going to a postsecondary institute, that was exciting. It aligns with what we are saying that every child enters with a promise and leaves with a purpose. We can say 97.5 percent of our kids is leaving with a defined purpose. That is up from previous years (in 2018 it was 93.7 percent and in 2017 it was 87.9 percent).”
However, Patel said the district will work to bring up other APR sores.
“Having seen the data, of course, there are things we can improve at and we will,” she said. “To me, how you improve is we stay the course. We continue to look at how we work with our professional learning communities. We continue to look at student work. We continue to have best practices and have professional development. If we continue to do that, I’m a firm believer that everything else will fall in place.”
Northwest saw slight dips in its students’ performances on the MAP tests, with the English score decreasing to 52.2 this year from 53.4 the previous year, and the math score dropping to 47.2 from 47.9.
Kirchhofer said the downward scores are not a reason to panic since all school districts were affected by the raised proficiency standard two years ago, which means there are not enough years of data to paint a clear picture of how the district’s scores are trending.
“Two years of data is not enough to make drastic changes,” Kirchhofer said. “We like to look at multiple data points over multiple years before we start thinking, ‘Is this a system issue or a curriculum issue?’”
Kirchhofer also said it is important to remember that while the district is scoring above the state average in APR, that doesn’t mean Northwest is not looking for ways to improve.
“There is always room for improvement,” Kirchhofer said. “That is how we work with our staff. That is why we do the development days that we do and professional learning to try and grow.”
De Soto had the lowest MAP English test score in the county for the second straight year, and it had the second worst MAP math test score this year. It also was the only district in the county to be below the state average in both English and math in the APR.
Dorean Dow, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said the district is addressing those issues by updating its curriculum.
De Soto changed its math curriculum two years ago, and the students’ test scores did rise on the MAP, increasing from a 38.5 to a 39.4 this year.
It is using an updated English curriculum this year and is currently searching for a new science curriculum to use next year, Dow said.
The district will introduce a new social studies curriculum in the 2022-2023 school year after it already had been updated for the 2016-2017 school year, she said.
“It takes time,” Dow said. “Overall, we have been stagnant, and that is very frustrating. It can take four years to update the curriculum cycle, and it may not show yet, but we believe we are on the right path.”
Crystal City had the biggest scoring difference in English and math, and it also had the biggest change in scores from the previous year.
The district had the second highest MAP score in English in the county, at 57.5. However, the district also had the lowest score in the county in math, at 39.
Crystal City’s English score fell from 64.9, a 7.4 percent decrease, and its math score fell from 43.9, a 4.9 percent decrease.
Crystal City Superintendent Steven Barnes said the large changes in scores can partly be attributed to the district’s small size. It had 524 students last school year when the latest MAP test was taken.
While the percentage point changes can be attributed in part to size, Barnes said the district is not ignoring the data and continues to look at its curriculum.
“One advantage of being small is we have an easier time looking at the kids,” Barnes said. “We know exactly who the kids are who are struggling. Sometimes it is curriculum. I think we do need to do some math curriculum for sure, but for us, it is more targeting specific needs for kids.”
Barnes said the district’s major focus right now is improving the math curriculum.
“We want to make sure we don’t have holes in the Missouri learning standards that are associated with our curriculum at different grade levels that are causing some of those issues,” he said. “We are looking at what our kids are doing and how that translates into the classroom. I think we have some holes we need to address there that we haven’t looked at close enough in the past.”
Barnes said Crystal City can be proud that the district’s subgroup student population (low-income, minority, English learners or students with disabilities) scored well in English and math in the APR.
“It says a lot about our staff and how much they know each individual kid and how they try to meet the needs for everybody,” Barnes said. “That is a success for us that we should be very proud of.”