While state education officials are pleased the latest statewide test scores exceed federal requirements, the results from the achievement tests for Missouri students shouldn't make anyone jump for joy.
As a matter of fact, the latest results will leave many Missourians scratching their heads.
Most Missouri students did only slightly better -- or even worse -- than a year ago in meeting state standards in reading, math and science, according to scores from the Missouri Assessment Program, commonly called MAP.
Fewer third- and 11th-grade students met state reading standards last school year. Third-graders who scored at the "proficient" reading level on the MAP test fell to 32.7 percent in 2003, down from 33.6 in 2002.
Scores of 11th-grade students fell to 21.4 percent in 2003 from 23 percent in 2002. Third-grade students who were proficient in science fell to 38.1 percent from 38.7 percent.
That's all bad news, right? Of course it is. Kent King, Missouri's education commissioner, said he was not pleased by the testing results. And neither should any parent be pleased.
King says there has been some "slight improvement" in the scores in the five years since the tests began. But, rightly so, he says not enough improvement has been made.
But get this: Despite the state's poor progress, the results top the standards of the federal government and its No Child Left Behind law.
Under that federal law, only 9.3 percent of all students need be "proficient" in math. How many Missouri students need to be proficient in reading under federal standards? Fewer than 20 percent.
So according to those standards, should we be celebrating the fact that 32 percent of Missouri students are proficient readers? We don't think so.
Instead, it raises questions. The latest MAP results mean two out of three Missouri students are below "proficient" in reading. Does this mean they are poor readers? Is the test meaningless? Does it mean they goofed off on the test?
None of those answers is reassuring.
How high can the expectations be when our students can only do slightly better or worse and meet federal standards?
Are these the goals you have for your children?
From our perspective, we can't help but wonder if the standards are set so low so students can easily reach them.
District scores will be released in early September. Let's hope students in our area show better results than the paltry standards deemed acceptable by the federal government.
These are not standards that will prepare our children for life in the real world.
If a bricklayer only requires that 20 percent of his bricks stand up, he's not building a very solid structure. It's one that will soon crumble and fall.
That's exactly what we're doing to our students. If we set them up for a life of low expectations, those are the ones they'll meet.