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"It helps motivate them to take the test," said Ruth Ann Orr, principal of Alma Schrader Elementary School.
The test Orr was referring to is the Missouri Assessment Program [MAP] grade-level examinations, which began Tuesday at Alma Schrader. They will continue through April 25.
Other local grade schools are sponsoring motivational activities much like Alma Schrader's during the grade-level testing window that opened April 1 and will run through May 17.
Schools across the state have been stepping up efforts to prepare students for the MAP test and end-of-course exams taken by high school students. But local school administrators say the assessments aren't something to be pursued only toward the end of a school year.
"We prepare students for the tests early in the year," said Theresa Hinkebein, curriculum coordinator for the Cape Girardeau School District. "Our approach is to get them ready with a curriculum that is reflective of state expectations."
Dr. Rita Fisher, assistant superintendent of the Jackson School District, echoed Hinkebein's philosophy.
"It's not something we start a few weeks before the testing period," Fisher said. "It's a yearlong process, and the success we've had with our testing comes from a curriculum aligned with state standards."
While there is considerable focus on teaching to the test, preparation for the MAP test or an EOC exam also comes with periods of review.
"All of our teachers have a review of subjects that were covered earlier in the year," said Mike Johnson, principal of Scott City High School. "The key is to have the material fresh in the students' minds when they take the test."
The statewide scoring by students on MAP tests at levels deemed proficient or above increased slightly in 2012, from 54.6 to 55 percent in communication arts and from 54.3 to 55 percent in math, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. In the Cape Girardeau schools, the students in grades three through eight who scored proficient or above in communication arts was 48 percent, with 50 percent proficient or above in math, nearly the same as in 2011; in Jackson, the percentage was 60 percent in communication arts and nearly 63 percent in math; and in Scott City, 43 percent scored proficient or above in communication arts with almost 44 percent in math.
"The MAP test gives us the opportunity to identify areas that need improvement," Hinkebein said. "With our data-analysis plan, we're able to break down the scores to see what particular areas of the curriculum need work. Also, we're able to see what we're doing well in so that we can emulate those practices in areas that need more attention."
The 2012-2013 school year is the first that Missouri's public schools will not be subject to sanctions from the federal government if they do not meet progress indicators -- previously based on their MAP scores -- that measured "adequate yearly progress" as set by the No Child Left Behind Act. The U.S. Department of Education granted Missouri and 32 other states waivers to provisions of the law in 2012, one of which required all students to be proficient in communication arts and math by 2014. The waiver allows the state to use its own accountability system, the Missouri School Improvement Program, to more effectively identify schools that are struggling and recognize schools that are improving.
"Missouri received a flexibility waiver from No Child Left Behind because we have our own accountability process in place," Hinkebein said. "The MAP scores are still used with other performance measures to develop each school district's annual performance report."
The annual performance report provides an update on how districts are meeting state standards in 14 areas, which are the foundation for Missouri's accreditation requirements for public schools. Attendance, graduation rates, ACT test scores and other indicators are used to determine each district's APR.
At Alma Schrader, the focus is on students doing well on their MAP tests.
"It's all about pride and being motivated to do their best," Orr said. "This is their chance to demonstrate to friends and family what they've learned this year."
MAP test scores from previous years and APR information are available through DESE's Missouri Comprehensive Data System at mcds.dese.mo.gov.
301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO
1360 Randol Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO
614 E. Adams St., Jackson, MO
3000 W. Main St., Scott City, MO