Mo. state board approves statewide final exams

Friday, February 16, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The state Board of Education signed off on a plan Friday to require high school students statewide to take the same final exams starting in 2009.

State education officials recommended changing the standardized tests high school students take in hopes of making them try harder and to help ensure schools teach the same material from district to district. Schools could decide whether to still administer locally designed finals.

A task force on how to improve high school education had recommended Missouri move away from the Missouri Assessment Program tests and instead require students to take a college entrance exam, such as the ACT. But the state board rejected that idea last summer.

Many teachers complain that high school students don't try their best on the state standardized tests because it doesn't impact their grades. But it matters to their schools, because results from those exams are used in determining whether school districts meet state accreditation standards. The results also are used to measure students' progress under a federal education law that imposes harsh penalties if increasing numbers of students don't perform well over time.

"We need to help schools in motivating kids to do the best they can," assistant education commissioner Stan Johnson said.

Some school administrators expressed concerns to the board that the change is moving too quickly, but at least one said this idea has broader support than the proposed switch to the ACT.

"There's some merit to end-or-course exams," Blue Springs Superintendent Paul Kinder said. "There's probably still some discussion to be had."

While the details are to be worked out later, education staff proposed that students' performance on the new exams should count for at least 10 percent of their final grades, with districts able to give the tests more weight.

The state board's approval, for now, simply allows the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to seek bids to administer statewide final exams in algebra, English and biology starting in spring 2009.

Education officials will continue to discuss how to implement exams in other subjects in future years.

Some board members and Education Commissioner Kent King said they also want to explore whether there's a way to allow schools to use results from students taking a test such as the ACT to meet those additional exam requirements.

"There are alternatives out there we don't want to ignore," King said.

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