By Elisa Crouch • St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Oct 3, 2016
Standardized test scores released Thursday by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reinforce long-established patterns in terms of the region’s public school quality.
Suburban schools, particularly those in more affluent parts of the region, continue to exceed state averages. Those in more economically depressed areas continue to struggle.
But this year offers hope to parents in St. Louis seeking quality school options, with more than a dozen schools posting test scores that outperform the state’s passing rates.
Even so, the usefulness of this batch of test data is limited.
For a second consecutive year scores only offer a blurry picture of whether schools and districts are getting better or worse in teaching reading and math.
The scores reflect how well students in public schools grasped those two subjects, as well as science and social studies, when they took their exams last spring. Schools and district scores can accurately be compared against one another, and against the statewide proficiency rates.
But legislative requirements have resulted in three versions of the reading and math tests in the last three years, making it all but impossible to compare proficiency rates over time.
Different tests result in different scoring procedures and what qualifies as below basic, basic, proficient and advanced.
“We’re in a fairly frustrating period of time if your business is accurate measurement of student outcomes for the sake of gauging school quality,” said Chris Neale, assistant commissioner for the Office of Quality Schools for the Missouri education department.
This spring, the test will remain the same. Then in 2018 it will change again.
As a result, superintendents and teachers are increasingly frustrated with the state’s assessment. In the last two years, scores have been released about two months later than they had been in the past.
“Data from these assessments cannot help us drive instruction as we’d like them to,” said Kelvin Adams, superintendent of St. Louis Public Schools. “It’s a lagging indicator.”
A stark reality
Academic performance makes up about half of the score that districts receive when the state issues its Annual Performance Report each fall. That report is scheduled to become final in November. The annual report also includes graduation rates and attendance, and is used by the Missouri Board of Education to assign accreditation status to districts.
Statewide, 62.9 percent of students met the threshold on the English portion of the MAP test, and 48.6 percent were proficient or advanced in math.
A number of school districts in the more affluent parts of the region exceeded those proficiency rates. Those districts include Fort Zumwalt, Webster Groves, Kirkwood, Clayton, Ladue and Lindbergh.
Some districts in more economically distressed areas scored below the state bar. Those districts include Ferguson-Florissant, St. Louis, Normandy, Hazelwood and Riverview Gardens.
The results conform to a stark reality in public education: Poor schools and students from impoverished backgrounds don’t perform as well as their more affluent peers.
But this year’s test data also show some schools bucking that trend. The Pattonville School District is one of them, outperforming districts with similar demographics. The same is true of several charter schools, such as North Side Community School in St. Louis.
According to the results, University City schools continue to have the widest racial achievement gaps in its schools, with a 50 percentage-point difference between how white and black students scored on the English exam districtwide.
Districts and charter schools with at least a 40 percentage-point disparity between white and black students on the English assessment are Grand Center Arts Academy, St. Louis Language Immersion School, the Webster Groves School District, City Garden Montessori and the Kirkwood School District.
More quality options
In St. Louis, scores at district and charter schools indicate that the number of quality school options is increasing, even as the city continues to have some of the lowest-performing schools in the state. Eighteen district and charter schools met or exceeded the state’s proficiency rates in English, and 18 of them met or exceeded the state’s passing rate in math.
These schools include Gateway Science Academy High School, Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, Mason Elementary School, North Side Community School, and Lift for Life Academy High School.
Metro Academic and Classical High School, Kennard Classical Junior Academy, and Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience — all magnet schools in the St. Louis district — were the region’s highest performers in English, followed by Liberty High School in Wentzville and New Haven High School.
The region’s top performers in math were West High School in the Parkway district, Brentwood High, Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience in St. Louis, Kennard Classical Junior Academy in St. Louis, and Ladue Horton Watkins High.
The scores provide a snapshot of school quality. They don’t indicate whether schools are lacking in resources such as textbooks or technology, or whether they offer a wide array of honors and college-prep courses.
But they’re the only objective way of determining whether schools are effectively teaching the academic standards set by the state. Without them, it would be almost impossible to gauge the racial and economic disparities in schools.