COLUMBIA — At a press conference Wednesday, Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Chris Belcher addressed the district’s poor performance on Missouri Assessment Program tests, saying he was disappointed in the results.
Only four of Columbia’s 28 public schools met Adequate Yearly Progress standards set by the state to measure student proficiency in communication arts and math.
In describing the district’s MAP results, Belcher used an analogy comparing the assessment tests to a physical one might get at a doctors office. He said the results indicate schools might have “a fever,” but it does not mean they are seriously ill.
Belcher said he was most concerned with the district’s math results at the elementary level, which were slightly lower than state average scores across the board.
“I would say that with grades three through six we’ve had a fever for four years,” he said.
Preliminary data released this week by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education indicates that two schools are in more trouble than the rest. Parkade and Field elementary schools are facing corrective action after continuing to underperform for several years.
All 24 schools that did not meet progress standards are on some type of improvement plan. Title I schools, those receiving funds to help disadvantaged children, receive additional federal money to pay for resources that may help them improve. State law mandates that students at underperforming schools be allowed to transfer to another school that did meet AYP standards, and the district must pay the transportation costs for students who ride the bus.
Jack Jensen, assistant superintendent for elementary education, said he does not expect that parents will rush to pull their students out of schools that underperform because parents and students have already built relationships with teachers and faculty at those schools. He said he would try to accommodate any students who wanted to move as long as there is room.
“I don’t do any child a favor by overcrowding the classrooms,” Jensen said
Jensen said that last year, about 25 to 30 students requested to transfer schools because of their home school’s failure to meet AYP standards.
Although the district is taking the MAP test results seriously, it is important to remember the scores only provide a “one-time snapshot of student achievement,” Belcher said.
Despite the district’s failure to meet state progress standards, used to assess progress toward compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Columbia Public Schools scored on par with or slightly higher than state averages for most grade levels in communication arts.
Part of the reason communication arts scores are high is because in 2009 high school students were given end-of-course exams in place of the MAP tests, Belcher said. He said the narrow focus of the new exams allows students to perform better.
“Having a measure of performance that is more closely focused on content at the end of a course versus content over multiple years is a plus and students are more accountable for results,” Belcher said in a prepared statement.
The downside, he said, is that high school math scores are significantly lower than last year. The percentage of Hickman students that scored proficient or above in math dropped from 52.3 percent in 2008 to 29.7 percent in 2009.
Belcher said the drop is due to the new content of the math test at the high school level. The end-of-course exam covers only Algebra I material, a class that most students complete by ninth grade. But because the test is administered to 10th-graders, the demographic of students affects the results.
“The reports you get for Algebra I at Rock Bridge and Hickman will look artificially low because it's measuring only a certain sample of students,” Belcher said. “Those students are often the ones that either tracked differently, or are retaking the class.”
Belcher said district officials would continue to analyze the information and develop a plan for how to best change the system as a whole. He emphasized that teachers are not to blame for the poor performance of the district and individual schools, and that change must come from the top.
“MAP tests are not made to give parents and teachers the information to change instruction for an individual student,” Belcher said. “The MAP tests are designed to give a snapshot of how healthy a system is.”