Columbia student achievement gap widens, data shows

Friday, August 29, 2014 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 11:40 a.m. CDT, Friday, August 29, 2014
Columbia Public Schools Board Member Jan Mees, left, talks to Superintendent Peter Stiepleman and board member Christine King following a press conference at Columbia Public Schools Administration Building on Thursday. Stiepleman spoke about recent Missouri Assessment Program test results at the conference.

COLUMBIA — The academic achievement gap in Columbia Public Schools continues to widen, according to 2014 Missouri Assessment Program data.

The MAP data represent just one part of a troubling trend in Columbia Public Schools: Its subgroup continues to fall behind academically.

The subgroup, as defined by the school district, includes students who are black, Hispanic, eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, English language learners or students receiving special education services under an individualized education program.

The subgroup continues to grow. Almost 40 percent of public school students in Columbia were eligible for free or reduced price lunch in 2013, up from almost 31 percent in 2004, according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The solution?

It’s up to the school district to build systems that will support kids in two main areas: academics and social/emotional growth, Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said in an interview before a news briefing Thursday.

Other administrators and some Columbia School Board members attended the briefing, but only Stiepleman spoke.

Finding solutions that move the needle on subgroup achievement has been a major issue in Columbia Public Schools, and the need continues. Subgroup achievement dropped 21.4 percent, from 35.7 percent in 2013 to 14.3 percent this year, according to the MAP data from the state.

Stiepleman's biggest area of concern within the subgroup is high-mobility students, meaning students who are homeless or move frequently. He said one in four students starts at one school and ends at another, placing a heavy burden on students to catch up to a new environment.

To combat the increase in mobility, the district has hired two "mobility counselors" for the 2014-2015 school year who will act as case managers, actively supporting students who have been identified as highly mobile.

Last year, there were 165 homeless students ranging from kindergartners to high school seniors in the district, Stiepleman said.

The results aren't all discouraging. The district saw a roughly .7 percent increase from 2013 scores in the Missouri School Improvement Program, which is a broader assessment measure that includes MAP data. The MSIP score rose from 79.6 out of 100 in 2013 to 80.4 in 2014.

In addition to MAP data, the MSIP includes the district's standing in the college and career ready index, attendance and graduation rate. Out of a total 140 points possible, the district earned 112.5 from the other indicators, according to DESE data. Last year, it was 111.5.

Specifically, college and career readiness saw positive advances. College and career readiness includes the number of students taking Advanced Placement courses, the number of students who go on to college and other post-secondary education and scores on ACT and AP tests.

Stiepleman is particularly proud that the district continues to fare well on the ACT, with an average composite score higher than that of the state and national average scores. The district average composite score of 23.3 bests the state's average of 21.8 and the nation's of 21.

Why do the MAP standardized tests and MSIP assessment matter?

"Assessment is important," Stiepleman said. "(The MAP test) gives us a way to compare ourselves over time. We need to do well on whatever test we take."

The focus for the upcoming school year remains on the subgroup.

"Our rallying cry is that students in subgroups make progress a year from now," he said.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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