COLUMBIA — New standardized testing data for Columbia Public Schools show:
- About 49 percent of Columbia students scored proficient or advanced in mathematics this year, compared with about 54 percent of Missouri students. The district figure is down from 52 percent in 2012 and about 53 percent in 2011. (Numbers have been rounded to the nearest whole number.)
- About 34 percent of eighth-grade students scored proficient or advanced in mathematics this year, down from about 51 percent in 2012.
- 52 percent of students who took Algebra I end-of-course exams scored proficient or advanced in 2013, down from about 56 percent in 2012 and 62 percent in 2011.
But district leaders say the numbers don't tell the whole story. This year, which students take the Missouri Assessment Program tests has changed, Chief Academic Officer Sally Beth Lyon said at a news conference Thursday.
In past years, eighth-graders and, in some cases, even younger students who were enrolled in Algebra I took not only the Algebra I end-of-course exam but also the eighth-grade MAP test, Lyon said.
"Students who were enrolled in Algebra I as eighth-graders tend to be well-prepared, high-achieving MAP students," she said.
Now, those high-achievers are not in the pool. Students in Algebra I are taking only the Algebra I end-of-course exam. This "had the effect of removing 25 to 30 percent who had been taking the eighth-grade MAP test in the past, who tended to be high-achieving, high-scoring students," Lyon said.
Also, MAP tests in math and literacy are on their way out. In the spring of 2015, Missouri will begin using Smarter Balanced assessments for those two tests, and the new tests will be more aligned with Common Core standards, said Nick Kremer, the district's language arts coordinator for sixth through 12th grade, in an email.
Essentially, the tests will be different. So, are the MAP tests even relevant anymore?
"I told someone at a superintendents' conference a couple weeks ago," Superintendent Chris Belcher said at the news conference, "I said, 'When I get MAP scores, I don't know how to feel anymore.' I'm not sure what it tells us."
The district hasn't been emphasizing MAP data and is telling teachers to focus on the new standards, he said.
"To be ready for those assessments, you have to start using the Common Core," West Middle School Principal Connie Dewey said Thursday. "Our focus is to that now and not necessarily toward the MAP assessment."
The two-year gap between the decision to switch to Common Core curriculum and the implementation of those requirements puts students in a bind; they are learning a new curriculum but being tested on old material.
"When you shift curriculum items from different grade levels, you have to make sure you haven't missed anything," Dewey said, and that takes a lot of planning.
Science scores consistent
On the science part of the MAP test this year, the percentage of students who scored proficient or advanced, meaning students either met or surpassed the academic targets set by the state, was:
- About 60 percent in Columbia Public Schools, compared with about 59 percent statewide.
The percentage of Columbia students who scored proficient or advanced on the Biology I end-of-course exams was:
- About 74 percent this year, up from about 61 percent in 2012
Fifth- and eighth-grade science scores were consistent with last year's scores. At the state level, there was a jump in Biology I scores. Reflecting that trend, Hickman and Rock Bridge high schools saw increases of about 11 percent and about 14 percent, respectively, said Mike Szydlowski, the district's science coordinator.
In science, the new standards test students with questions based on graphs, tables and diagrams — questions that correlate to real, hands-on situations. It seems to have paid off.
"Kids are a lot more engaged when you're doing problem-solving, the discovery learning and labs," Dewey said.
Achievement gap persists
In a teleconference on Thursday, state Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said she was "very disappointed" in the widening academic achievement gap among groups of students in Missouri.
In Columbia, the problem persists. According to the new MAP data, about 15 percent of black students scored proficient or advanced on the mathematics test, compared with about 56 percent of their white peers.
Belcher said the district has done lots of things to try to rectify the gap, with little successes here and there. It takes a long time to right a big ship, he said.
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.