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Missouri students raise math scores

Tuesday, September 25, 2007 | 7:00 p.m. CDT; updated 5:53 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Missouri’s fourth- and eighth-graders made significant gains in the math section of this year’s National Assessment of Education Progress, a test commonly known as “the nation’s report card.” Missouri students brought their math scores up several points, making them equal to the national average.

Missouri was also one of only six states where students raised their scores on all five subsections of the math exam.

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Reading scores on the NAEP test for Missouri students in both fourth and eighth grades stayed the same this year, roughly on par with the national average.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act mandates that the NAEP test be administered every odd-numbered year. The test is used to measure student achievement throughout the United States and allows for cross-state comparisons. This is different from the Missouri Assessment Program, or MAP test, that the state uses to assess only its students.

Chip Sharp, math coordinator of grades six-12 in the Columbia Public Schools, said Missouri is one of only a few states with corresponding results from the NAEP and state assessments. This is primarily because Missouri created the MAP test using a similar framework to the national test, he said.

“That doesn’t say we’re doing as well as we would like,” Sharp said, “but in terms of performance, it’s almost a dead-on match.”

Jim Morris, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Education, said Missouri’s success on the math exam comes from a higher emphasis on preparing students for the NAEP testing.

“There has been more emphasis on the NAEP tests in the past five years across Missouri,” Morris said. “There also has been a major effort in the state to align our state MAP tests more closely with the NAEP exam. I think that helps teachers focus on the knowledge and skills addressed at these grade levels. And we think that effort is paying off in mathematics.”

Missouri has put forth similar efforts in reading but saw no improvements in 2007.

“Frankly, we’re disappointed that we’re seeing little or no change in the reading scores,” Morris said. “So we hope that will follow (the math scores).”

Although Missouri has raised its math scores in recent years, finding better ways to teach math is always an uphill battle.

“The biggest challenge is the fact that we — teachers, parents, the community — are a product of our math system. And what we know about the way children learn math is that it’s different than the way we learned math. And any time you’re trying to change a paradigm, it’s difficult,” said Linda Coutts, Columbia Public Schools’ mathematics coordinator for K-five education.

Coutts attributes the increase in math scores to a more coherent curriculum in which teachers and administrators better coordinate which skill sets should be learned at which grade level.

During the past year in particular, some parents have raised concerns about how math is taught in the city’s public schools. Generally speaking, at issue is whether math should be taught as a step-by-step process or as a method that embraces more than one way to solve a problem, often using real-world situations. Creation of a related parent advisory committee is scheduled for November, Sharp said.

Also on the NAEP test, more Missouri fourth- and eighth-grade students were rated at the “proficient” level than in 2005.

NAEP scores are only reported on the statewide level because the number of students in each district who take the exam is too small to draw a representative sample from each district.

Of the 350,000 students who took the NAEP test nationwide, sample groups for Missouri included 3,000 students in each subject and grade level. Scores at the statewide level are based only on the scores of public schools.

For more information or to see the full text of the report, go to nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/states.


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