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Test scores decline statewide

JEFFERSON CITY • Across Missouri, the percentage of public school students who passed communication arts this year dropped more than 2 percentage points. Math passing rates also dipped, state education officials told board members Tuesday.

Just 53.5 percent of students statewide had passing scores in communication arts, while 53.2 scored proficient or advanced in math, according to results from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. In 2013, the passing percentages were 55.7 percent and 53.9 percent, respectively.

One of the biggest drops was in communication arts from the fourth-grade class in 2013 to the fourth-graders in 2014, which went from 53.5 percent passing to 46.3 percent. Third-grade scores went from 48.5 percent passing to 42.3 percent.

In math, the fourth-grade passing rates dropped nearly 8 percentage points.

Officials said Friday and again Tuesday to state board members that they have no clear answers on the reason for the drop. The difficulty of tests, the high number of snow days this year as well as the impact of a transition to new national standards aligned with the Common Core all have been considered.

“We’re way under on fulfilling the foundation formula, that might be a factor,” said board member Charlie Shields, referring to the state’s spending levels on education.

Officials also stressed putting the scores in perspective.

The state department said that more than 23 percent of all districts reduced their actual days of attendance by 10 or more days. Although the analysis shows no definite pattern for districts with large numbers of snow days, scores from individual districts may have been affected by makeup schedules, administrators said.

“It’s a one-year decline in scores,” Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro told the board Tuesday morning. “We don’t need to press the panic button.”

Scores for minorities and English language learners also dropped, 2 percentage points in communication arts and 1.3 points in math.

After a review by the state education department, the testing vendor and a contracted third party, no technical reason for the decline in scores was found. The review found the test was the same level of difficulty as previous versions.

Missouri did have a change in test questions for the first time since 2010. Ideally, the state would change the test every year. Because of budget constraints, Missouri used the same test form for four straight years.

Test items in the 2014 assessment were drawn from an existing pool common to both the previous standards and the Missouri Learning Standards in English language arts and math.