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Mehlville plan to hike scores will focus on the classroom


December 22, 2004 - By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

A plan to boost Mehlville School District's test scores will involve "a more focused instructional effort in the classroom that looks like the test that the kids are going to be taking ...,'' according to Super-intendent Tim Ricker.

The plan to counter a 27-point drop in the state's Annual Perfor-mance Report was presented to the Board of Education last week by district administrators.

The plan is designed to "effect change in the organization this year to raise MAP (Missouri Assessment Pro-gram) scores now'' and to "lay the groundwork for the next two-three years for systemic change in the organization to continually raise MAP scores annually.''

Strategies to achieve the plan's goals in-clude effective instructional strategies, data analysis, curriculum development, staff de-velopment and accountability, according to the presentation given by Central Office administrators, including Deputy Superin-tendent Jane Reed, South Area Superinten-dent Keith Klusmeyer, Assistant Superinten-dent for Curriculum Connie Hurst-Bayless and Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Cindy Lynch.

As first reported by the Call, the Mehl-ville School District received 73 points on its 2004 Annual Performance Report issued by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, a drop of 27 points from the perfect score of 100 it earned the past two years. The department issues an Annual Performance Report for each school district in the state, detailing how each district met Missouri School Im-provement Plan performance measures and MAP standards.

As a result of its 73 score, Mehlville did not earn the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's prestigious Distinction in Performance Award that it had received the past two years. To qualify for the award, districts must meet 11 of 12 MSIP performance standards, which in-clude MAP test scores, ACT test scores, advanced course offerings, college placement, vocational placement, dropout rate and attendance rate.

The Mehlville School District did not meet standards in three areas based on tests administered last spring — MAP grades six through eight and the reading index in grade three and grade seven. Not meeting the standards in the three areas cost the district 27 points on its 2004 APR as compared to the previous two years.

MAP tests incorporate three types of questions to evaluate student achievement: multiple-choice questions that require students to select the correct answer; short-answer, constructed-response items that re-quire students to supply — rather than select the correct answer; short-answer, constructed-response items that require students to supply an appropriate re-sponse; and performance events that require students to work through more complicated problems or issues.

After the presentation, Ricker said, "All in all, I think one of the things that we've tried to do over the past four, five years is work on alignment and what that means is making sure that our curriculum is aligned to the standards for the state of Missouri, making sure our curriculum is aligned to the assessments, which would be the MAP test, the ACT, the Terra Nova, things of that nature, and then making sure what happens in the classroom as far as instruction is concerned actually connects that curriculum to the assessment.

"That's where we think we failed or that's where we think we haven't done as good a job as we need to do. And don't misinterpret that word fail. Our teachers have worked extremely hard. They have worked with larger class sizes. They've worked with less materials. They've worked with textbooks that in many cases are inadequate, but that's not to say that they haven't been working, they haven't been teaching and the kids haven't been doing the kinds of activities that need to be done. What we believe is that we need a more focused instructional effort in the classroom that looks like the test that the kids are going to be taking and so that we have not random acts of learning, but a focused act of learning so that they can transfer that learning from the classroom to the test situation. And that has to be done using higher-order thinking skills,'' Ricker said.

"It can't just be at a knowledge level or a regurgitation level or a comprehension level or in some cases not even an application level, applying learning to a situation. It has to be at the analysis level, the synthesis level and the evaluation level so that they can take ideas, reconstruct them from what they've either read or seen and redesign that into a written statement or an explanation of how they've come to the answers that they come to. We have to do that in the classroom and practice that in the classroom before it will ever be just miraculously done in the testing situation,'' he said.

"So our teachers have been working hard, but maybe not on the right things or to the level that we think needs to take place. Maybe we've been working at the knowledge level and more at the comprehension level and we have to work towards those higher-level thinking kinds of activities. So we want to work on monitoring that instruction and those in-structional practices on a daily basis so that we can make sure that that's taking place so we will be able to affect a change in the results immediately in the classroom ...,'' Ricker said.

Board Vice President Matthew Chellis said, "The term teaching to the test scares a lot of people, including a lot of parents who feel that education should be a pursuit of know-ledge, a pursuit of learning and not a pursuit of the data.''

Ricker asked, "Is that a question? Is that a statement ...?''

Chellis replied, "... Please respond.''

Noting what Chellis said is a "noble concept,'' Ricker said accountability systems are established "to demonstrate what performance is in relationship to a given set of standards. In our state, it's the Show-Me Standards. And the tests are set up so the students that take the MAP test, they take those tests to show if they know those standards, if they know the content area and if they know the process area. And so if you can show that you know the content area and don't do well in the process area, you won't come up to that accountability system to be showing that you're ... meeting those standards.''

Board member Rita Diekemper interjected, "So is that why I hear of parents who say my kid has done really well on the Terra Nova ... And then so why isn't that being reflected on their MAP scores?''

Ricker said, "Yes. The same would be true if those parents that you hear that say my students, especially at the high school, have done extremely well on the ACT or the SAT, but they're only Nearing Proficient on the MAP score. Because it's a different test and it's a different testing situation. They may be covering the same content, but the processes are different. And so those are the things — it's the game. The accountability game is the game and it gets us our accreditation and it gets us all of those things that we need to do. So if we're not doing well on what is being considered as the standard for comparing school districts, then I believe that our district is negligent in providing what we need to to show how we compare with other school districts.

"Now, with that being said, that takes a lot of time and a lot of effort in the classroom and for those students who because of whatever reasons are high or low, the game is such that you have to continue to build upon your past performance. It has to continue to improve ...,'' he said.

"... This idea of well, we just would like to get all those educational situations in there to educate everybody at their own level for every reason on every subject in every area of interest, that's incongruent with the accountability systems that are in place, both No Child Left Behind as well as the Missouri Assessment Program,'' Ricker said. "And so while we can say yeah, we would love to be able to do that and that's what we did for years prior to the accountability changes in the laws, both state and national, we were able to do those things, those interest units that teacher had on the things that they loved to teach, but at the same time people were clamoring for our kids can't do this. They can't read. They can't write. They don't know if they can do change. They're not in competition with the other major industrial nations of the world and they can't do this. And that all changed and that all changed very quickly. So are we teaching to the test? We're teaching to the standards. We're testing to the standards. They just all happen to be aligned.''

Diekemper said, "When you say our kids can't make change, you mean we nationally.''

Ricker said, "That's what we hear ...''

Diekemper interjected, "Because our kids can make change.''

Ricker said, "Exactly.''

He continued, "But that theory and that thought drives the political process and the funding to determine what schools are going to do from a political standpoint, not from an educational standpoint.''

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