At monthly meeting

The results of standardized testing and construction of a new press box at Hawthorne Heights were the focus of the Mexico school board Tuesday night at the monthly Board of Education meeting.
Mexico High School principal Dr. Terry Robinson presented the findings of data related to college and career readiness, particularly the results of ACT testing.
The average ACT score of MHS students dropped approximately one point between 2012 and 2013, which Robinson explained was the result of testing a greater number of students. In 2013 the school began offering the ACT free to seniors which resulted in 153 students, or 93 percent of the class, taking the exam. In 2012, the school tested 114 seniors, roughly 70 percent. In 2011 only 74 students were tested, approximately 40 percent of the class.
Board member Robby Miller was curious about the opportunity free-testing provided to MHS students.
"Would you say we tested students who wouldn't otherwise be tested?" Miller asked.
Robinson answered in the affirmative, explaining that free testing provided an opportunity for students for whom the cost of the ACT might be financially prohibitive. Robinson said he hoped students who did well during the free testing would be inspired to retake the test exam and improve their scores. In the class of 2013, nearly 90 percent of students who chose to retake the ACT improved their scores.
Robinson's report also included data that indicated students undergoing a rigorous course schedule scored significantly higher than those choosing not to do so. A course schedule is considered rigorous if a student completes four years of English and at least three years each of math, social studies and natural sciences.
The average score for MHS students completing a rigorous course schedule was 23.2. MHS students who did not take a rigorous course schedule averaged 18.4. The state average for students completing a rigorous course schedule was 22.4.
Robinson also noted that over the previous three years, MHS has improved its performance on the Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP 5). The MSIP 5 takes the students graduating at or above the state standard on the ACT, SAT, COMPASS or Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) into consideration when reviewing and accrediting public school districts in Missouri. In 2013, 54.5 percent of graduating students met or exceeded the state standards on at least one of those tests. In 2012 52.2 percent of graduates met the standard and in 2011 only 41.3 percent.
The high school will once again offer free ACT testing to seniors on Dec. 14. The test will also be offered to juniors on March 18 and the ASVAB will also be offered.
Assistant superintendent, Dr. Zachary Templeton, presented the district's MAP results to the board.
As a district, Mexico has performed below the state average for the previous five years in the core areas tested by the MAP: Communication arts, mathematics, science and social studies. The board was unhappy with this data.
"I imagine our district is squirming at this report, because as a board member I'm uncomfortable," Miller said. "What do we need to do to turn this around? We all own this."
Templeton's report reflected unhappiness with the results, conceding "By comparing our performance to the state average and to surrounding school districts we have to acknowledge that the district is underperforming."
In 2013, students performed better in mathematics, science and social studies while suffering a decline in communication arts scores. "The rate of improvement needs to outpace the state if the district hopes to perform above the state average," the report continued. "Efforts must be made to determine specific skills that cause Mexico students to struggle in each content area." Templeton explained that he and superintendent Kevin Freeman are exploring options to improve the scores including evaluations of neighboring school districts which surpassed the state averages.
The board approved 4-3 the construction of a new two-story press box at Hawthorne Heights in a continuation of new business. The cost of the project to the district would be $137,923.00. Board President Dr. Peter Perll, Vice President Beverly Borgeson and members Miller and Dustin Pascoe voted in favor of the construction. Treasurer Beverly MacFarlane and members Patrick Maguire and Dr. Elwood Rice voted against construction. Both Maguire and Rice expressed concern over the cost of the project and insisted the board had not fully explored their options in accepting the bid.
"Why think when you can act? Why plan when you can proceed?" Rice asked. "Why buy a Ford when you can buy a Rolls' Royce?"
Maguire explained he did not find the cost of construction wise in light of the district's MAP results, suggesting the board explore a more conservative design and invest the money elsewhere. Rice was in favor of securing a new design for a one-story press box that could be constructed at lower cost.
Perll expressed concern that a one-story press box would be unsafe to video crews who would be forced to record from the top of the roof. Miller explained that the current press box was unsafe for use and that the board had already taken too long in approving construction. Miller believed it was important for the board to take action to mitigate the risk of accident before the start of track and field in the spring.
One other area of concern for the board was the number of students participating in the free and reduced lunch program. During the 2012-2013 school year, 70.67 percent of students in the district utilized the free and reduced lunch program, an increase of over four percent from 2011-2012.
In other business, the board opened the meeting by modifying the agenda, moving the discussion of personnel to the executive committee and discussion of membership renewal in the Missouri United School Insurance Council to October.
The board reported that school attendance increased district-wide for the period between August 15 and August 29, with 97.18 percent total attendance. Of these students, 91.63 percent of students throughout the district attended class at least 90 percent of the time.
The board also accepted the creation of the Mexico High School Class of 1950 Scholarship, which will be awarded to a graduating student who plans to attend college or a trade school. The selection for the $500 scholarship will be based on a combination of a student's grades and demonstrated financial need.