Student test scores for 2019 and other measures that are factored in to a public school district’s annual accreditation were released to the public Thursday by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
In past years, getting a snapshot view of how a school district is performing was easy. The state reported the total number and percentage of points that districts received in the overall process, something akin to a letter grade that students are familiar with on their homework and tests. Anyone who wanted specifics could drill down into the supporting data.
But this year, it doesn’t seem so simple. The state isn’t releasing that total number and percentage for districts.
And if you can even navigate yourself to the data portal on the state department’s website, you might think that a PDF labeled “2019 District APR Summary Report” — APR stands for Annual Performance Report — would be your best bet for quick information.
You’d be right, but the presentation won’t be what you’re expecting. You’ll find yourself, for any given school district, staring at a page of colored bands, with labels such as “floor” or “approaching” being used to describe the district’s performance in English and math.
What does any of that mean? There are keys and legends available, and a video tutorial for first-time users, but the overall effect isn’t user-friendly.
State officials said last week that they want to give parents data about their schools that is meaningful to them. They want people to look beyond a single number to determine their school’s performance.
“We’ve heard from so many people, ‘Our schools are more than test scores,’” said Margie Vandeven, commissioner of the state board of education, as quoted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Associated Press.
To be clear, we understand that perfectly. We agree that test scores should not be the final word on school performance, particularly when there are so many factors that contribute to how students perform on those tests.
But for reporting that information to the public, we prefer a hybrid approach for ease of use. Give us an easy-to-digest snapshot of performance using the language and concepts that most of us understand — such as a letter grade or a percentage — and also make the data available so we can see how the overall assessment came to be.
This information is the best way the public has to hold its schools accountable. But it’s not meaningful if — as we suspect might be the case — the public struggles to interpret that information.
The state should rethink this approach.