Results were recently released on annual testing that assesses Missouri students each spring on college and career readiness for high schoolers and if lower grade levels require improvements in various subjects.

Mexico High School Principal Brad Ellebracht reviewed college/career readiness results Nov. 19 with the Mexico School Board, while Assistant Superintendent Larry Nelson looked at Missouri Assessment Program and End-of-Course testing. MAP and EOC results are included with the district's annual performance report, which informs district on which subject areas it should improve upon.

College and career readiness is measured in four ways, Ellebracht said. They are the standard ACT, ACT WorkKeys, which reviews workplace readiness, ASVAB, which reviews military, workplace and academic readiness and the ACT Accuplacer, which reviews college course placement. The district uses Accuplacer as a dual-placement qualifier for students taking classes through Moberly Area Community College.

WorkKeys data was not yet available to the district. Students are tested on applied math, graphic literacy and workplace documents and can earn the national career readiness certificate. The ASVAB test is given to seniors in the fall. Data presented was from the Class of 2019.

There are four content scores from results of the ASVAB. Students who received a 1.0 score were at district benchmarks for military, career or academic readiness. There were 31 students below the benchmark, 61 students approaching the benchmark, 31 at the benchmark and 12 who exceeded the benchmark.

"ASVAB gets a few kids into that college and career ready area that maybe don't qualify through the ACT,” Ellebracht said. “The numbers are a little skewed since a lot of our kids see this as a military interest test. We're looking for ways to have a bit more skin in the game as taking the ASVAB."

The district in 2019 tested 176 high schoolers on the ACT. The average composite score of English, math, reading and science was 18.7. Students averaged a high composite score of 19.2 in 2018, but there also were only 143 students taking the test. The state average for 2019 is a 20.8 composite score, with roughly 12,000 fewer students tested throughout the state compared to 2018 — 68,424 to 56,238.

ACT scores tie into Missouri School Improvement Program measures. The district is awarded points in its MSIP performance measures for students who make a composite score of between 22-25 on the ACT. A good portion of students in 2019 were just below the benchmark, with 53 students, or 30%, scoring 18-21. A majority of students, though, still are making a composite score of 17 or less — 67 or about 41%. There were 23 students who met ACT benchmarks, while 20 students exceeded the benchmark.

"There's a gap we need to address and close between us and the state," Ellebracht said. "For the first time, we were able to consolidate the data in real time several months prior to graduation. It showed the limitations of these sorts of measures."

Students who wouldn't necessarily qualify for college at this time are being actively pursued and offered scholarships by colleges, he added. These are students who already are taking college level classes through dual-placement but based on the MSIP and ACT standards aren't considered, he said.

"These numbers are limited in what they tell you about a kid's future, but they are important," Ellebracht said. "Our goal is to make sure each kid takes one of these tests. We want to prepare them as well as we can. Not every kid is a college-bound kid. However, the way our practice is right now, we have to get kids into those college prep courses."

The high school will continue on increasing coursework rigor and what the ACT expects of students and then getting students into those higher level college-like courses when possible, he added.

MAP, EOC and APR

With MAP and EOC testing, Missouri students are assessed against the Missouri Learning Standards. Grade level testing is done in math and English from third through eighth grade and science in fifth and eighth grades. High school students take algebra I and English II EOC tests typically are offered at the end of the school year, but also can be taken in the summer or fall, whenever a student completes course instruction. American Government and biology EOC tests also are taken.

Students are scored at below basic, basic, proficient and advanced. Tests from 2018 for math and English were new and so could not be compared to previous test years, so 2018 results are a baseline for 2019 results, Nelson said. The 2018 science test was a field test, so the district didn't receive score data, but did for 2019, which will serve as the baseline for 2020 results next fall.

A majority of students are testing at basic or proficient in English for third through eighth grade. For math, below basic percentages typically are higher, but there are more students at basic than at below basic. Middle school students average much better basic scores, with more than half at basic and around 20% at proficient. Older students, such as those tested in Algebra II have better basic and proficient margins.

"The MAP testing and EOC were new last year and so the tests are much more rigorous than in the past. I'm not saying that as an excuse. Our building principals and our building teachers work very hard for all learners in our buildings," Nelson said.

Third grade students throughout the district did poorer this year on the MAP test than in 2018. Those testing at proficient or advanced dropped 4.9 percentage points — 45.6 to 40.7 — in English and 7.8% in Math — 46.6 to 38.8. Fourth-graders testing proficient/advanced also dropped in the district, but by smaller percentages — 3.6% in English and 1.5% in math. McMillan Early Learning Center, prior to reconfiguration, improved its proficient/advanced scores by 5% in English and 27.7 percent in math. Those students now are attending Eugene Field and Hawthorne which could help improve overall testing averages for students. Better performing students in the classrooms will help other students at those schools improve, along with kindergarten through eighth grade faculty professional development instruction in math.

"Our students from McMillan will have an impact on our growth," Nelson said.

Fifth-graders saw improvement with their MAP scores despite the harder test. Across the district, scores improved 5.6% in math for those testing proficient/advanced and 2% in English. There was a slight improvement in math, 2%, at the middle school, and a drop of 5.4% in English.

EOC testing for high school English I dropped 5.6%, while English II dropped 12.4%. Algebra I scores dropped 0.8%, but Algebra II improved 15.2% and Geometry improved 7.7 percent. High school math students did better than state averages.

These test scores all tie into the Annual Performance Report, which is the district's report card from the state. The annual report looks at student academic achievement, subgroup achievement, which can include race or those receiving free or reduced-price breakfast and lunches, college and career readiness, attendance and graduation rate.

Results look at growth, or the change in achievement scores for individual students over time, status, three-year average performance of a school, and progress, which indicates annual improvement on math assessments. Of those metrics, those are broken into floor, approaching, on track or target expectations for a district. If a district is rating at floor, that means a district is below expectations and there was less than 1% improvement. Approaching is 1 to 2.99% improvement, 3 to 5% is on track and more than 5% is target or exceeding.

Growth expectations in academic and subgroup achievement are exceeding achievement gains in English, while they are on track in Math. While the district is on track or at targets for college and career readiness, the district still has to make improvements in making sure all students are college or career ready. Around 70% of MHS graduates are on track for college or career readiness. The district is within floor or approaching percentages for making all students college or career ready. Three year district averages also are at floor or approaching for making sure all students are college/career ready, not just a percentage of graduates.

While around 90% of students were in class 90% of the school year, student attendance improvement still is needed. Around 85% of students graduated within four years, and graduation rates have increased around 4.2% in three years.

The next steps

Since a majority of students still are performing at basic levels in English, math and science, the district will advance the coursework for these subject areas, Nelson said.

"We have been invited as a district to partner with [the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] this year, and we are going to implement a district continuous improvement framework," he said.

This doesn't mean that DESE is taking over curriculum and instruction of students, but it is providing resources for districts to implement the framework so that as students advance through grade levels, expectations are consistent, especially when they transfer from the elementary school to the middle and high schools.

"The nice thing about partnering with DESE is [its] going to provide instructional coaches to support our teachers and help us provide us with professional development," Nelson said.

Before the framework is implemented, the district will create a leadership team that includes representation from each building. DESE provides needs assessments to help with the implementation process. This will include looking at curriculum currently taught and if it aligns with the Missouri Learning Standards.

DESE will eventually require all districts to implement the continuous improvement framework. "So, we're hopping on board a little early," Nelson said.

By working to implement the framework now, it will help the district get a jump start on the next version of Missouri School Improvement Program standards, he said.

cdunlap@gatehousemedia.com