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Missouri House panel discusses alternative testing and accreditation approaches

There is some wiggle room in the way Missouri conducts testing and accreditation, a lawmaker told the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education Wednesday.

And maybe Missouri should explore a different way of doing things, said Rep. Paula Brown, D-Hazelwood.

HB 49, sponsored by Brown, would make changes to how districts are accredited and how students are tested.

The Missouri School Improvement Program, or MSIP, is a mechanism that the state Department of Education uses to make recommendations for the accreditation of Missouri schools. The State Board of Education then reviews those recommendations for approval. Under HB 49, school districts could choose to use MSIP or a national accrediting agency.

“The current system known as MSIP right now is in its sixth generation, and if you ask teachers and many principals and many school board members across the state, they would say that not much has changed because of MSIP,” he said Brown. “We know things – it’s not that MSIP isn’t telling us things – it just doesn’t inform the instructions maybe like it should.”

The federal government requires 17 assessments from grades 3-8 and above covering language arts, math and science, Brown said, but the federal government doesn’t mandate what the tests are to be used for.

“The current assessment tool doesn’t inform education on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “So, at the end of the year, the next teacher can’t look at individual kids and tell you, ‘This is where we really need to focus on their education and this is where they already know this and we don’t have to spend as much time on it.'”

Brown’s bill requires changes to the focus of statewide testing known as the Missouri Assessment Program, or MAP.

Assessment results don’t necessarily indicate whether a student is performing academically, Brown said.

“At this point, we still don’t have a solid definition of what the grade level is in the state of Missouri,” he said.

His bill specifies that the statewide assessment system should be “student-centered,” use assessments “throughout the school year,” and support teaching, learning, and program improvement. It must also show how a student compares to grade level, show the evolution of skills and measure growth during and over the years.

“Did you know that only half of US states accredit schools?” asked Brown. “And a bunch of those that accredit schools don’t use a final test score to do that. I think that’s why this bill is bigger than it might appear on paper, because they’ve been cobbled together in the state of Missouri, right, and we have the opportunity to change or fix it. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, D-Kansas City, said the focus in Missouri has been on testing rather than student learning.

“I think this is one of the most important things we can do to keep good teachers in the classroom,” Nurrenbern said.

MCSA’s Mike Lodewegen said that every time a new iteration of MSIP is created, the focus on testing seems to increase.

“There’s no question that teachers are frustrated with the situation they’re in, given the system we’ve created,” she said. “It was unfortunate that we weren’t able to delve into some of these topics as part of our study of teacher recruitment and retention over the summer, but it’s badly needed.”

The head of the state education department testified for informational purposes.

“The department remains committed to exploring options to redesign the grading system across the state,” said Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven.

“As this bill moves in that direction, I would like … the committee to consider an implementation challenge that I see could produce unintended results, namely that the bill requires more methods of accrediting schools and LEAs , allowing districts the opportunity to apply for accreditation for multiple entities and only have to get it from one,” he said, adding that it makes for a comparison that is not “apples to apples.”

And while federal law doesn’t dictate how test scores are to be used, Vandeven said, it does require the state to “assess every child at the grade level on the same standards using the same assessments.”

The bill was supported by the Missouri National Education Association, the Missouri State Teachers Association and the Missouri Council of School Administrators.

The committee also heard from HB 497, sponsored by Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly, which would revive a previously unfunded scholarship program it would rename the “Teacher Recruitment and Retention Scholarship Program.”

The program would cover the full tuition and fees of up to 100 undergraduate students who wish to become teachers who have already completed at least two years of college or earned an associate or bachelor’s degree, provided they agree to teach in schools that are “difficult for personnel” or subject areas for two years each year receive the scholarship.

If they fail to teach in any of these areas, the grant becomes a loan that must be repaid.

The committee also passed HB 827, a bill intended as a “fix” to the way virtual school enrollment was done.

HB 49: Changes the provisions governing the state evaluation system

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