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Missouri students still score lower on standardized tests than before the pandemic

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Missouri students’ scores on statewide standardized tests are still lower than they were before the pandemic.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released preliminary statewide results for the 2022-2023 grade-level and end-of-course assessments at Tuesday’s state board of education meeting. District-level data is typically released later in the year.

Shawn Bates, the department’s coordinator of standards, curriculum and assessment, said Missouri’s scores are in line with what other schools are seeing across the country.

“When we start looking at the overall rates of achievement and the pre-pandemic levels, we have not reached that point yet,” Bates said. “We're not there yet, but our teachers are working very diligently.”

The report showed that 44% of students performed at the proficient or advanced level in English language arts. Forty percent of students tested advanced or proficient in mathematics, while science is at 39% and social studies is at 37%.

According to the report, elementary and high school students made small improvements in English language arts, while middle schoolers saw no growth or small declines.

Bates said sixth- and seventh-graders could have lower scores because of when the pandemic impacted their learning.

“Those are the same students that were affected at grade two and three,” Bates said. “That was at that key moment of going from foundations of reading into that independent reading.”

The report found that most grades and courses saw small increases in their mathematics scores, and Bates noted that sixth and seventh grades are nearly at or have reached pre-pandemic levels. Progress in science was flat, while social studies scores declined.

Some Missouri school districts moved social studies courses and assessments to different grade levels, which Bates said likely explains the score declines.

Peter Herschend, a member of the state board from Branson, asked how the state education department should respond to the report.

“These numbers are not impressive, they’re kind of depressing, because nothing changed,” Herschend said. “I understand COVID and that obviously is a factor, but nothing changed significantly — positive or negative.”

Margie Vandeven, the state commissioner of education, said schools are still facing challenges that were worsened by the pandemic, like student mental health issues, chronic absenteeism and teacher shortages.

“One primary area that we cannot lose sight of is that of having a great teacher in every classroom,” Vandeven said. “I'm still hearing reports from schools where they have all substitute teachers in the classroom. There are still vacancies. That impacts student learning, it just does.”

Vandeven said the report emphasized the need to “double down” on existing education initiatives for early learning, literacy and career and technical education programs.

The Missouri legislature passed almost $82 million in funding for pre-kindergarten grants earlier this year. Another bill passed during the previous session requires DESE to create an “Office of Literacy'' and develop guidelines for reading instruction.

“We have to keep the resources coming to our children,” Vandeven said. “This should be a continued call for us to do that.”

Earlier in the meeting, the state board approved a waiver allowing twenty Missouri school districts — including four in the metro — to move away from the state’s standardized testing system. The group asked to stop relying on the Missouri Assessment Program, which they say doesn’t get them information on where students are struggling until it’s too late to make changes.

Copyright 2023 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

Jodi Fortino
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