News Briefs

Missouri students will take standardized tests. Results won’t factor into accountability measures

By: - December 8, 2020 1:32 pm

While children have been much less likely to be hospitalized or die from a COVID-19 infection thanks in part to differences in how their bodies respond to the virus, many still have become sick (Photo courtesy of CDC/ Amanda Mills).

State standardized tests will still be administered for the 2020-21 school year, but their results will not be factored into state and federal accountability systems, following a vote of the Missouri State Board of Education on Tuesday.

While test results won’t be incorporated into accountability measures, such as school district accreditation, board members spoke of the need to still administer tests to serve as a baseline of where students across the state stand amid a pandemic that had upended the traditional school year.

“What is clear is that the 2020-21 school year is anything but standard,” said Chris Neale, the assistant commissioner of the Office of Quality Schools, noting that about 10 percent of students have not been on campus since last spring.

To be exempt from federal requirements, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will need to acquire a federal accountability waiver, said Mallory McGowin, a department spokeswoman.

The Missouri Assessment Program, or MAP, measures students’ abilities to master topics outlined in the state’s learning standards. Scores from the standardized tests are factored into districts’ annual performance reports that track progress and performance. The annual report cards are one of the determining factors that contribute to a school’s accreditation status.

Tuesday’s decision follows the department’s suspension of MAP tests this past spring and decision to not issue performance reports for the 2019-20 school year.

Board member Kimberly Bailey said while assessment and accountability is needed, she expressed concern for the stress requiring tests may add.

“Stress levels are at an all time high,” Bailey said. “And we know that this testing really adds to that stress level.”

While tests results won’t factor into punitive action against a school this year, DESE officials stressed that standardized tests will still offer valuable data, like how to reform courses.

“Without system wide assessment, we cannot build a complete reflection of the impact of the pandemic on student learning,” said Lisa Sireno, the standards and assessment administrator. “We know that the more students who participate in the assessment, the more useful the resulting data.”

In April, The Northwest Evaluation Association, or NWEA, a nonprofit organization that develops assessments for students in pre-K through 12th grade, predicted that school closures would result in declines in learning gains, especially in math. An initial review of assessments taken this fall found that students’ performed similarly in reading, and that learning growth slowed slightly in math.

However, the review noted that students “especially vulnerable to the impacts of the pandemic” were more likely to be missing from the data.

DESE Commissioner Margie Vandeven said MAP will help provide the most standardized data across the state.

“This is to help measure where things are,” said board member Peter Herschend. “We don’t want a carpenter coming in to do some remodeling in our home or to build us a house without using a tape measure.”

The state’s current testing plan emphasizes they be administered in-person on campus, and guidance may need to be issued on how to facilitate test-taking for students participating in distance learning.

In an effort to reduce the burden of administering tests this spring, Sireno said DESE is assessing ways to extend the testing window and reduce the time it takes to complete exams by removing questions to shorten the tests.

Board member Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge noted that many districts have said they rely on formative assessments to identify where learning gaps need to be remedied, not on the summative standardized tests.

“MAP testing doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility to lean in and understand what their formative assessments are telling them,” Westbrooks-Hodge said.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Tessa Weinberg
Tessa Weinberg

Tessa Weinberg covered education, health care and the legislature with the Missouri Independent. She previously covered the Missouri statehouse for The Kansas City Star and The Columbia Missourian, where her reporting into social media use by the governor prompted an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. She also covered state government in Texas for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.