Troubling Test Results for Missouri Students
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) just released preliminary test scores from last year. We finally have some information about how Missouri students have been faring since the start of the pandemic. The news isn’t good. It also isn’t unexpected.
The top line is that test scores are down pretty much across the board. The end-of-course (EOC) assessments in English 1 and Physical Sciences are the only two exceptions. DESE has made it very clear that last year’s scores can’t be compared to any earlier years. We can wait to do that in a couple of years. But there’s plenty of information in just this year’s scores.
Here are my takeaways (bear in mind that about 50,000 students who should have taken the tests did not. We don’t have any information on the type of students who were missing, but one can guess that most high-achieving students showed up):
- Virtual learning was a failure. Eight in ten virtual or distance learning students scored either below Basic or at Basic in math. Those students have either a minimal or a partial understanding of the material. English/Language Arts wasn’t much better. Two thirds of those students scored below grade level.
- We have a math problem. Nearly one third of students tested in math—including students who learned in person and virtually—scored below Basic. That equates to almost 150,000 Missouri students with a minimal understanding of their grade level’s math.
- We have a reading problem on the horizon. One group that I have been very concerned about during the pandemic is early readers. English/Language Arts scores dropped in all the early grades. But what’s really troubling is that out of 60,000 third graders tested, 3 in 10 scored below Basic and another 3 in 10 scored at the Basic level. That’s over 35,000 third graders that will not be able to read a math book or a science book unless we take immediate action.
- Our most disadvantaged students—Black and Hispanic students, students with disabilities, low-income students, and students learning English as a second language—were the hardest hit by the pandemic. Although the scores released by DESE for these groups bundled all three subjects together, the percentages of students who scored at the Basic level or below were dismal. Eighty-five percent of Black students, 87 percent of students with disabilities, and 74 percent of low-income students demonstrated only a minimal or partial understanding of the material.
So now what? The good news is that we have money and lots of it. DESE has received nearly three billion dollars from the federal government in stimulus spending. Although most of the money is directly distributed to districts, several hundred million will be spent at the state level. Parents are worried about their children being behind and they want services now. Students and families should be consulted about their needs and money should be made directly available.
Hopefully, more detailed data will be released soon. We need to understand this as the crisis that it might be.