If You Can’t Measure It, You Can’t Improve It
Some things are hard to face—the scale, your checking account balance—but ignoring them doesn’t make problems magically go away. The same can definitely said of education. Monitoring school performance and making the results available and easily understood by the public is critical. Because those in charge seem unwilling to do so, the Show-Me Institute has launched a website, MoSchoolRankings.org, on the performance of Missouri’s schools and districts.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is preparing to launch the 6th version of the Missouri School Improvement Plan (MSIP 6). Less than half of one page of the 22-page document discusses academic achievement in English/Language Arts and math. Like the earlier versions, districts will be labeled as unaccredited, provisionally accredited, accredited, and accredited with distinction. Schools will continue to receive no label.
What does “accredited” even mean? And what does accredited mean if 99 percent of school districts in the state are currently labeled as accredited? What does it mean to a St. Louis parent that their child goes to school in an accredited district—St. Louis Public Schools—but fewer than 10 percent of the students at their child’s school can read or do math at grade level?
Before the pandemic hit, in the 2018–19 school year, 49 percent of Missouri students scored Proficient or higher in English/Language Arts and 42 percent did so in Math. What does Proficient mean? Are those numbers high or low?
DESE’s website has report cards for every school and district in the state. But they are difficult to find, difficult to understand, and come with no context. The website also has a Data Dashboard for districts, but not for schools. DESE clearly doesn’t have the appetite to compare schools to each other or to give schools grades.
The Show-Me Institute has been talking about the deficiencies in DESE’s data reporting for some time. We have written papers, produced podcasts, and blogged about the need for easy-to-understand information on the performance of each school in Missouri. Parents, legislators, and citizens need this information. Unfortunately, MSIP 6 will likely be more opaque than MSIP 5 and the school report cards have not improved.
The Missouri School Rankings website that we are launching provides school-level and district-level performance information. This information was used to rank all schools and districts in the state. We have also assigned grades across 10 academic indicators. The grades for each school or district were combined into a grade point average (GPA), which was also put into rank order.
Not everyone is going to love seeing these grades. Some will say that we’re kicking low-performing schools when they’re already down from COVID. Some will claim that it’s mean spirited. We believe that information is the key to improvement. We welcome any discussion of what a better report card format for Missouri schools might be. We do not, however, support keeping Missouri families in the dark any longer.