Hickman Mills School Officials Say State Testing Discriminated Against Students

Oct 23, 2015

Updated 9:05 a.m. Monday:

Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) representatives say school districts were given ample time to prepare for online science testing that caused big drops in annual performance points for the Hickman Mills School District.

Sarah Potter with DESE's communications department says the district had years to get students ready for the switch.

"Districts were notified in 2010 that all state assessments would go online by 2015," Potter said. "That gave districts time to direct budgets toward technology and also prepare students with 21st century computing skills. At the end of the day, it's up to districts to help students prepare for any state test."

Potter says despite being administered online for the first time, the science test questions themselves did not change from 2014.

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Hickman Mills School District officials say the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's (DESE) Annual Performance Report discriminated against students in the district.

DESE dropped Hickman Mills from 70.7 percent compliant with state standards in 2014 to 59.3 percent for 2015. Most of that decrease came from science scores in grades 5 and 8 on the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) tests.

The science tests were administered online for the first time this year. Hickman Mills Superintendent Dennis Carpenter said Friday that most of the district's students aren't technologically savvy due to economic disadvantages, and DESE failed to adequately prepare them for the new online tests.

"I don't think the state recognized that the shift to technology-based assessments across the state would have an impact," Carpenter said. "DESE said, 'We're going to get you sample [online testing] tools,' in July 2014. We ended up getting them in late February, less than two months to the start of the testing window."

Carpenter also highlighted increases in the number of students who scored proficient or advanced in English II, algebra, biology and government assessments as signs that the district is improving as a whole, regardless of the test score.

Kansas City Public Schools also suffered a loss in APR points from last year.

KCPS Superintendent Al Tunis said in a release that the district is still focused on attaining full accreditation.

"We are on the right path and still focused on full accreditation," Tunis wrote. "That is thanks to our teachers, staff, students and parents."

Meanwhile, other districts like the Independence School District and Center School District saw upswings in scores over last year. Center spokeswoman Kelly Wachel said that the district's focus on rigorous standards in math and science, as well as college preparedness measures helped grow their numbers.

"Our score solidly lands us in the top performing category of all schools across the state," Wachel said. "Center High School almost had a perfect score on their college readiness measures, so that tells us that we're really preparing kids at high levels for college and careers."

Carpenter said he believes Hickman Mills will continue to improve and hopefully receive full accreditation from the state Board of Education soon. For the next year, the district will remain partially accredited.

Missouri lawmakers are expected to change testing standards yet again next year due to a distaste for Common Core teaching methods.

Correction: We erroneously reported that 2015 science tests for grades 5 and 8 in Missouri adhered to more rigorous Common Core standards. They do not, and were not changed between 2014 and 2015, according to DESE officials.

Cody Newill is a general assignment reporter for KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @CodyNewill or send him an email at cody@kcur.org.