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MAP test goes electronic- hands- Lydia and JaNyah

Fifth grader JaNyah Wilson (right), 10, concentrates as she works on a test preparation lesson for the MAP test on her Chromebook on Thursday, March 26, 2015, at Hancock Place Elementary School. To the left is classmate Lydia LaVine, 10. This is the first year Missouri will transition to what are called 'computer adaptive assessments,' which replace pencil-and-paper tests. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

Parents mulling the batch of newest test results may find they have a lot less information about their school districts than in previous years.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released district level scores Monday of the 2015 Missouri Assessment Program, providing a glimpse into how well students mastered the new Common Core standards last year and how well teachers taught them.

But that glimpse doesn’t provide an entirely clear look at school performance.

Last spring was the first time public school children took English and math assessments online and based on the new expectations. Unlike in the annual releases in the past, these results stand alone – the scores cannot easily be compared to previous years to see whether students, schools or districts overall have improved or gotten worse.

In October, the state will release district scores that parents can more easily use. That annual performance report will include a number of measures, such as graduation rates and attendance. It will also include a metric that will indicate whether districts and schools showed academic growth on standardized tests in English, math, science and social studies, and to what degree.

In Riverview Gardens, Superintendent Scott Spurgeon doesn’t truly know how his district compared to last year until the state does the calculation.

“Even as a district, we’re not sure how much progress we’re going to see,” he said.

Educators often lament the overemphasis of standardized tests, claiming they provide just one look at student performance. Much depends on the outcomes. Part of a teacher’s evaluation is based on them. In some districts, principals can lose or keep a job based on the scores.

Milena Garganigo, Clayton’s assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said parents should keep the results in perspective.

“It’s just one lens for us to look at things,” she said. “It’s one data point on one day.”

Test scores do, however, give policymakers an objective measure as to whether students are learning. Without them, determining the achievement gap between races and income levels would be all but impossible.

Test results at a statewide level were released last week. They showed 59.7 percent of Missouri students passed the English language arts test, and a little more than 45 percent met the threshold in math. Social studies had the highest passing rate at 63.4 percent. Nearly 57 percent passed social studies. Standards in science and social studies did not change.

Among the results released Monday:

• Clayton had the highest passing rate in math among local districts, at 75.3 percent. Other top performers in that subject were Ladue, Lindbergh and Kirkwood. Normandy was among the worst in the St. Louis area, with just 12.4 percent passing. Riverview Gardens, another unaccredited district, did slightly better. Among charter schools, North Side Community School performed the best, with 65 percent passing math. At the lower end, Preclarus Mastery Academy and Jamaa Learning Center each had about 8 percent passing.

• In English language arts, Kirkwood, Ladue, Lindbergh and Clayton were among the highest passing rates at 83 percent, 82.8 percent, 82.2 percent and 81.3 percent, respectively. City Garden Montessori had 72.4 percent, the highest passing rate among city charter schools in that subject.

• In north St. Louis County, the Ferguson-Florissant district posted rates of 20.4 percent in math and 39.3 percent in English. Hazelwood had 37.1 percent passing math and 54.4 percent passing English. In Jennings, a district that has made significant gains in recent years, 27 percent passed math and 40 percent passed English.

• Nearly 22 percent of those in St. Louis Public Schools passed math; 32.8 percent passed English.

Results also show the performance gap persists among races and income levels.

For example, in Kirkwood just 47.7 percent of students who are black passed English, compared to 90.6 percent who are white. Across the state, less than 37 percent of black students passed. Among those who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, a marker of poverty, the passing rate was 45.8 percent.

The new tests provide districts with less information than in the past about particular trouble spots. So far, the results have not been broken down so educators can see what standards students are not grasping.

“It’s a little bit challenging to figure out exactly what this data means to us,” Garganigo said. “It’s not as specific.”

In Normandy, Superintendent Charles Pearson was positive as the school year opened on Monday. About a quarter of students passed English and about one in 10 had passed math.

“While the challenges are many, we are making progress,” Pearson said, who became superintendent in May and put in place a number of initiatives intended to boost academic outcomes. “As I have traveled our district this morning, I’ve seen enthusiastic teachers and students ready to achieve academic success in our district.”

Across the state, parents are beginning to receive individual student scores for their children. The more rigorous standards mean that more students will fall short of proficiency, particularly in math. Expectations set forth in Common Core are similar to what Missouri previously had in place for English. Math was a bigger change.

Middle-schoolers normally have the hardest time adjusting to new standards. The change can be especially difficult in math for students who were taught for years under the old standards.

“The students who are in third, fourth grade, are the students who would have been going through the standards for their entire school career,” said Sharon Helwig, an assistant commissioner in the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. “For fifth-, sixth-graders, they had to move to the new standards in the middle of their school career. That was a challenge for teachers, to move them along and fill in any holes that were there.”

This school year, children will be tested again on Common Core standards. But legislative action is forcing the state to change the tests in 2016 and 2017, which will produce results just as difficult to decipher.