Nobody can blame Southeast Missouri educators for being disappointed with this year's scores on the Missouri Assessment Program math and communication arts tests.
And it's human nature, when something goes wrong, to assess blame and try to find a way out of a bad situation.
After all, the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 has made public school teachers' and administrators' jobs more challenging. It is placing more attention on standardized test scores, particularly those of students who traditionally haven't tested as well as middle-class white students.
Across the nation, NCLB holds up standardized testing -- which is left to each state to design and administer -- as the measure of schools' achievement. A certain number of students in groups broken out by NCLB -- whites, minorities, low-income and learning disabled -- should be meeting incremental standards now with the goal of 100 percent of all students doing so by 2014. Those increments toward the 100 percent goal are called "adequate yearly progress," commonly shortened to AYP.
For schools that don't receive federal Title I funding -- extra money awarded based on a high concentration of low-income students in one school -- NCLB ultimately doesn't mean much except a loss of pride if the standards aren't met by 2014. Locally, Title I schools are Blanchard, Franklin and Jefferson elementary schools and Central Middle School in Cape Girardeau; Orchard and South elementary schools in Jackson; and Scott City Middle School.
In those schools, should the standard not be met in time, students will have the option of transferring, and staff could be replaced.
About half the schools in Missouri didn't have enough students scoring proficient or above on the MAP this year. The trend was reflected locally, with the following results:
Cape Girardeau School District failed to make adequate yearly progress in either communication arts or math this year due to low scores among the minority and free- and reduced-lunch program students. Cape Girardeau's black students scored an average of 22.8 percentage points below white students on the 2003 MAP, and poor students were 8.8 percentage points behind.
In Jackson School District, three schools -- high school, junior high school and middle school -- did not make AYP, even though every group on every grade level did better than the state average. The district as a whole did not make adequate yearly progress in communication arts.
Scott City School District did not make adequate yearly progress in communication arts. The district was below the state MAP index in every subject on every grade level. The only improvements over 2002 scores was in seventh-grade communication arts, which increased nearly five percentage points.
So, with the scores out for this year, educators had to start looking for reasons for the problems. Admirably, many recommitted themselves to improving student performance on the test.
Blame the standards
But the Missouri School Boards Association quickly issued a memo to school superintendents. It suggested the high percentage of schools that did not make AYP this year "does not mean many of our schools are doing a poor job. It does mean our standards in Missouri are extremely high."
That's probably true, considering half of Missouri schools didn't meet the state standard, and only 15 to 20 percent of schools in Arkansas and Illinois missed the mark. Certainly, Missouri students are no less educated than those in neighboring states.
Two legitimate points to consider: The MAP has some short-answer questions instead of being all multiple choice, as tests are in some neighboring states, which means Missouri students have to think harder. And, in Missouri, scoring "proficient" -- the goal under both state standards and NCLB -- means students are achieving above grade level.
However, the standards behind the MAP, the Show-Me Standards, were set in 1996 by the state school board after lots of input from educators and others around the state. Charlene Peyton, then-president of the Cape Girardeau Teachers Association, was one who helped write them. There were hearings across Missouri for people to weigh in, and people from the area did so.
Obviously, the people of this state wanted high standards. Now that students are being held to them, it's not time to talk about changing the NCLB or worrying about what other states are doing.
Missouri teachers and parents are obligated to do all they can to make sure all students are meeting the mark. That begins with readying them for the next round of testing in the spring.