The decision to require students to take the Missouri Assessment Program test this school year has most Jefferson County superintendents scratching their heads and asking why.
Typically, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education uses MAP test results in English language arts, math and social studies, along with attendance rates, to generate the Annual Performance Report, which is used to measure how school districts are performing. The APR also looks at graduation rates and career and college readiness to measure success at the high school level.
However, DESE officials have said school districts will not face ramifications for low results on tests taken this school year.
That has superintendents questioning why students should spend time taking the tests this spring when they already have missed so much traditional instruction time because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The state of Missouri needs to discontinue the MAP test for this (school) year,” Jefferson R-7 School District Superintendent Clint Johnston said. “That would go a long way with allowing school districts to focus on the individual child’s position of knowledge and not get caught up in the bureaucracy of giving a test to justify an answer that all of us know is not going to be a positive result.
“We need to be focusing on a child’s learning not a state test.”
DESE Commissioner Margie Vandeven, on the other hand, said there is value in administering the test this school year. “I think people want to know how students are doing,” Vandeven said. “I think there are a lot of audiences out there that want to know that. While our districts know first-hand what is happening in their classrooms, there is some value to looking at the state in totality. We are concerned about looking at the academic achievement gap, the opportunity gap, and we need to really think as we move forward how will we address the impact of COVID-19, particularly in the terms of learning loss and mental health needs that our students and teachers are experiencing.”
Festus R-6 School District Superintendent Link Luttrell said the information from the state’s standardized test would be useful if the data were efficiently collected and distributed.
However, he said because the APR is typically not available until just before the school year starts or a month to two months after students return to school, districts typically can not use the information to help improve student learning.
“If we got the results two or three weeks after the test, it would really help guide us this fall,” Luttrell said. “I question that if they can’t give you quick feedback in a non-COVID year, how are they going to expect to give a quick turnaround when we still know the supply chain across the country is disrupted. If people are not back fully running, I don’t see it going smoothly.”
Not every superintendent is opposed to students taking the MAP tests, though.
Sunrise R-9 School District Superintendent Armand Spurgin said the tests should be given this school year.
“Is it ideal? No. But I think it is necessary,” he said. “We have to see where our kids are at and be able to gauge the value of virtual instruction versus in-person instruction. Without the data from the testing, we are not going to be able to do that as effectively.”
Other superintendents say the state’s assessment is not necessary because districts continually monitor student achievement and already know which students are excelling and which students need more help.
“The issue is the standardized test is what everyone wants to hang their hat on, and it is not accurate,” Dunklin R-5 School District Superintendent Clint Freeman said. “Any school in this county, the teachers know where the kids are at. To say we need a standardized test to know where our kids are at, is not an accurate statement because our teachers and staff, who work with our kids every day, do know where our kids are at.”
Northwest School District Superintendent Desi Kirchhofer said another problem with the test this school year is trying to administer it to students who are learning virtually from home.
“I don’t know if we will be able to get them to come for assessment,” Kirchhofer said. “I don’t think a state assessment is going to entice them to come to the building. Some of the students we need the data on the most, we are not going to get.”
Superintendents said they already know what results from this year’s test will say – student achievement has gone down because most students have had less in-class instruction because of efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Vandeven said she, too, believes test scores will fall throughout the state, but she also said the results will help the state and districts pinpoint where students are struggling and how to improve scores.
“We have a digital divide,” she said, “and can we pick that up in the data and (figure out) how can we better invest to solve that digital divide?
“We will see a lot of research about the importance of reaching our youngest learners, particularly face to face. They have struggled online. Some kids have been doing great. The question is those students who are thriving, what is working for them? The students who are struggling, what is not working for them? The story is behind the data points, and we need to dig deeper to see if there are patterns in the data points that can help inform the future.”
While there could be valuable information in the results, superintendents question taking students away from the classroom to take a test.
Luttrell said it can take up to 11 hours for a student to complete all the MAP tests, which are expected to be administered from April 5, 2021, through May 28, 2021.
“We have had a limited amount of time with students this year, and time is so precious,” Hillsboro R-3 School District Superintendent Jon Isaacson said. “To use that time and financial resources to take a test, I don’t know if that is good for kids. Let teachers be the professionals they are and get that information.”