There was much rejoicing in 202 of the 524 school districts whose students took the Missouri Assessment Program test last spring.
In those 202 districts, there were schools that showed considerable improvement in the percentage of students scoring in the proficient or advanced levels in math, communication arts, social studies and science. Some of those schools were right here in Southeast Missouri: Millersville Attendance Center, Scott City High School, Kelso Elementary School, Kelly High School and Oran High School.
A spokesman for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said the list of most improved schools, released by his department each year, is important because it demonstrates what every school -- large or small, rich or poor -- can do.
Administrators in those districts credited a number of factors: specific teachers who went the extra mile, more parental involvement and more buy-in by students.
Certainly, teachers who work overtime to find the best strategies for improvement on the MAP deserve praise. Some of them virtually bribe the kids to come to study sessions so they can improve their performance.
And parents who teach their children to excel at everything they try are to be commended for raising hard workers.
But undoubtedly, the key lies in that last group: the students themselves.
As it stands, MAP testing has little or no effect on students' scholastic careers. At Central High School in Cape Girardeau, high scores can help defray expenses of dual enrollment courses at Southeast Missouri State University or the cost of advanced placement testing. However, there are no punitive measures taken against students who slack off during the week of testing.
Why some students in all schools and all grades do it is understandable: It doesn't change anything about promotion, high school graduation or college admissions.
Meanwhile, with the passage of the federal No Child Left Behind mandate, the MAP means everything to teachers and district administrators. If students don't show improvement year to year, and if all students aren't in the top two levels of scoring by 2014, there will be repercussions in district funding and school staffing.
The accountability component of No Child Left Behind works ideally with yearly MAP testing. The MAP is a solid test with diverse kinds of questions that can measure student performance. But it only works if students want to use it to show what they can do.
The solution could lie in what some Missouri districts are considering: tying MAP scores to grades.
That would give students a reason to buckle down for testing, making it a true indicator of school and teacher performance. It would end bribing students for performance.
And it would be the final step in a long overdue program of accountability for taxpayer-funded schools.