Are Missouri students learning more or less? Are schools improving? Are teachers adapting to the state’s new standards? Well, the state’s MAP test results from the 2016–17 school year are out and they answer none of these questions.
Before I explain why, let’s look at the top-line results. In English Language Arts, proficiency rates for all grades hovered at around 60 percent. They ranged from 59.2 percent (in 7th grade) to 64.2 percent (in 4th grade). In Math, the numbers are lower, with the highest scores recorded for 4th graders (at 53.9 percent) and the lowest from 8th graders (at 30.5 percent). These numbers represent a small uptick from last year.
For students in the two grades for which we have science scores, scores for both have regressed slightly over the past three years, with 47.5 percent of 5th grades in 2015 scoring proficient and only 45.7 percent scoring the same in 2017. Meanwhile, 49.0 percent of 8th graders in 2017 scored proficient, down from 49.4 percent in 2015.
So what can we make of these numbers? In all honesty, not much. The eye-poppingly low 8th grade math numbers are most likely explained by the fact that 7th and 8th graders who take the Algebra I end-of-course exam (a higher-level exam typically taken by high-schoolers) are not counted in that data. They would probably help bring those proficiency rates up.
As to the rest, Missouri has been churning through new standards and new assessments over the last several years, which prevents us from knowing what explains any changes. Are the tests easier or harder? Is the actual teaching going on in the classroom getting better, or simply better aligned to the standards? Are students learning more? We cannot disentangle it.
What’s more, we probably won’t be able to understand these forces for some time. Missouri is rolling out yet another new test next year, making comparison to this year’s test results that much more difficult. Frankly, it is going to take several years of solid data from the new tests aligned to the new standards for us to determine whether or not schools are getting better or worse.