ST. LOUIS — Missouri's middle schoolers are on an educational upswing, improving both their math and reading scores in the state's public schools, according to standardized test data released Friday.
Other findings from the Missouri Assessment Program data were mixed. More districts and schools did not meet "adequate yearly progress" goals, though state education officials said that was because requirements were more stringent under federal law.
There was also a decline in scores at the elementary school level from 2007 to 2008.
For instance, there was a 2.8 percent decrease in the number of third-graders who scored at proficient or advanced MAP levels in communication arts. The number of third-graders who were proficient or advanced in math had dropped 1.5 percent.
Missouri's Commissioner of Education Kent King said the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education was especially pleased with the results from sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.
"The percentage of students who scored at the proficient or advanced levels increased significantly in both communication arts and math. We had seen little or no movement in the scores for these grade levels in recent years, so this is an encouraging sign," he said in a statement.
It's not easy to say why middle school scores have gone up, said Stan Johnson, an assistant commissioner with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. "We're still trying to analyze this ourselves," hesaid.
He said elementary students are taking more MAP tests than they used to. Beginning in 2006, Missouri's third- to eighth-graders have taken MAP tests each year. More testing data helped to show what skills students had learned, what needed work and helped educators better align curriculums.
Education officials also highlighted an increase in the percentage of 10th-grade students who scored at the proficient or advanced levels on the math exam.
All public school third- to eighth-graders took the MAP tests in communication arts and math in the spring. A math exam also was given to 10th-graders, and a communication arts exam to those in 11th grade.
Test results are used by the state to evaluate public schools for accreditation and to satisfy the accountability requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.
The state said only one-fourth of the school districts and about 40 percent of schools met proficiency targets for adequate yearly progress, a measure known as AYP. States are required to set targets that become progressively more difficult.
This year, 51 percent of all students had to score at the proficient level or higher for a school to meet the AYP target in communication arts. For mathematics, the target was 45 percent, the state said.
Carter Ward, the executive director of the Missouri School Boards' Association, called for changes to the No Child Left Behind Law, saying the current law unfairly labels many schools doing well at educating students.
"Because of the way adequate yearly progress is calculated, we are on an inevitable march toward including nearly every school and school district on the state in the ‘needs improvement' list," Ward said.