MAP testing options reviewed

Monday, January 29, 2007

Missouri's State Board of Education may replace the current Missouri Assessment Program tests in high school with at least four end-of-course exams.

The state board could approve a plan as early as next month that would require public high school students to take standardized, state exams in algebra, English, biology and government starting in 2009, state education officials said last week. Scores from the new tests could be used in determining students' final grades, officials said.

The plan wouldn't affect the MAP exams that students in grades 3 through 8 are required to take.

For more than two years, state and local officials have been discussing possible alternatives to MAP tests in math and communication arts which are given in 10th and 11 grades. Educators have complained that high school students don't take MAP tests seriously because it doesn't carry any weight toward gaining admission to college.

A statewide task force recommended last year that the state board scrap the high school MAP tests and replace them with the ACT and ACT writing exams. The task force proposed giving the test to all Missouri public high school juniors beginning in 2008.

Task force members, including Cape Girardeau Central High School principal Dr. Mike Cowan, said high school students would be more motivated to score well on ACT exams because those scores are part of admissions criteria at many of the nation's colleges including Southeast Missouri State University. Requiring students to take the ACT ultimately would encourage more of them to go to college, Cowan said.

But the State Board of Education never approved the plan.

In recent months, the concept of end-of-course tests has gained favor with state officials, Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spokesman Jim Morris said.

Several states use end-of-course exams. Such tests can satisfy federal testing requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act, said Stan Johnson, assistant commissioner of DESE's school improvement division. Making end-of-course exams count toward a student's final grade in algebra, English, biology and government classes could help motivate students to take the tests seriously, Johnson said.

Cowan still prefers the ACT plan. He said other states including Illinois have relied successfully on the ACT assessment.

"The ACT is a nationally normed test," he said. "It is indeed a credible exam. It has meaning and purpose for kids who take it," Cowan said.

Under the ACT plan, the state would have funded the cost of the testing. Students who currently take the ACT have to pay the expense themselves.

Cowan said Central High School students already take final exams in their courses in which the test is the same for all students taking a particular course as opposed to different tests for different classes.

"Not every school in the state of Missouri is doing that," he said.

Johnson said the end-of-course exams could be multiple-choice tests, but Cowan said that wouldn't show whether students could write clear, reasoned answers that would demonstrate their ability to think.

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