James V. Shuls
The 2011 results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress for vocabulary were recently released. Missouri once again ranked near the middle of the pack: 24th for fourth grade and 27th for eighth grade. In a press release from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), Commissioner of Education Chris Nicastro said, “"We are pleased to see that students in Missouri are maintaining their overall level of achievement on the vocabulary test."

I have two problems with this statement.

First, I am not sure Missouri students are “maintaining their overall level of achievement.” In both fourth and eighth grades, the average scale score for Missouri students declined from 2009 to 2012. The decline in fourth grade was a noticeable 3-point drop.

Secondly, we should not be pleased with maintaining our level of achievement; our goal is to improve. Moreover, we should not simply look at national rankings because our students will have to compete for jobs in a global economy.

The George W. Bush Institute has made it easy for us to compare the performance of our local school district with the performance of students around the world with its Global Report Card, which was recently updated. Here you can visit the website and see how the average student in your local school district compares to students across the globe. You may be surprised at what you find.

The average student in the Kansas City School District outperforms only 15 percent of students in other countries in math. In the Saint Louis Public School District, it is a paltry 12 percent. But do not make the mistake of thinking only students in the “big cities” are falling behind. Here is how the average student in a few other school districts compares:

Hume: 40 percent in reading, 26 percent in math

Cape Girardeau: 48 percent in reading, 29 percent in math

Springfield: 57 percent in reading, 48 percent in math

If students in Springfield were transported to Singapore, the district would only outperform 34 percent of Singapore students while students in the high-ranking Clayton School District would be at the 46th percentile.

It is time to stop celebrating mediocrity and expect more for our children.

About the Author

James Shuls
James Shuls
Distinguished Fellow of Education Policy

James V. Shuls is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and Distinguished Fellow in Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute.