State scores show gaps in education

Friday, August 20, 2004

While local school districts did escape penalties this year by meeting new standards on the 2004 state student assessments, scores released by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Thursday reveal major gaps in student achievement.

Differences between minority, low-income and male-female student scores were significant in a variety of subject areas and grade levels in Cape Girardeau, Scott City and Jackson on this year's Missouri Assessment Program tests.

Officials in those districts said they are just beginning to examine the basic scores and will know more in the next few months when detailed data become available for each test subject area.

Across the state, this year's data show that 867, or about 43 percent, of Missouri's 2,034 schools did not meet federal standards of annual progress.

The preliminary data show that most Southeast Missouri schools are following a statewide trend of little change in scores over the past five years.

"The scores are much more positive than not, but there's always something we want to work on. From year to year, we never know what that something is going to be," said Dr. Sam Duncan, director of state and federal programs in the Jackson School District.

Duncan said in his district, the biggest highlights of this year's tests are at the seventh- and eighth-grade levels, where significant gains have been made in communication arts and math.

"We're up in everything there, and that's been a goal for the last several years," Duncan said.

On the eighth-grade math tests, Jackson students as a group improved their scores from 15.8 percent scoring proficiency in 2003 to 21.3 percent proficiency this year. However, among that population of students, there is a gap between how students as a whole perform and how low-income students do.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, state test scores are broken down into various subgroups based on sex, race, disabilities and income to help districts identify which groups of students are struggling in a particular area.

In local districts, low-income students and minority students typically score much lower than white students or the student body as a whole.

For instance, Jackson's low-income students have scored an average of 7 percentage points lower than the combined student body on the eighth-grade math tests over the past two years. In Cape Girardeau, where there is a larger population of low-income and minority children, the gap is even wider.

In some cases, such as on the 10th-grade math tests at Central High School, not a single black student scored proficient on this year's assessments.

Male students also lagged behind in communication arts at Central High School and junior high school, scoring an average of 19 percentage points lower this year than girls who took the tests.

That same breach appeared in communication arts scores among male and female high school students in Scott City. At the high school, 26.3 percent of girls scored proficient or higher on this year's communication arts tests, while only 7.7 percent of boys were proficient.

At a press conference Thursday afternoon in Jefferson City, Missouri education commissioner Dr. Kent King discussed statewide improvements on this year's math tests as well as the flat scores seen in other subject areas.

"What these data show is a vast majority of schools are serving a vast majority of kids very well," King said.

Under the current testing system, MAP tests in communication arts, math, science and social studies are administered every spring to students in varying grade levels. Third-, seventh- and 11th-graders take the reading and science tests; fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders take the math and social studies tests.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools and certain subgroups of students within each school must meet specific proficiency benchmarks, known as adequate yearly progress, on the MAP communication arts and math tests every year in order to avoid penalties such as paying for students to transfer to better performing schools.

The penalties only apply to schools that receive federal Title I funding, however. This year's benchmark for adequate yearly progress in Missouri was 20.4 percent of students scoring proficient or higher on the state's standardized test in communication arts, and 10.3 percent proficient or higher in mathematics.

By 2014, NCLB requires that all schools have 100 percent of students scoring proficient in those two subject areas.

"Is it asking to much that all kids be proficient? No," King said. "Is it realistic to believe that all can attain it? I think the answer to that is no as well."

Staff writer Marc Powers and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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