Columbia test scores still highlight achievement gap

Aug 23, 2013

Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Chris Belcher, flanked by school district officials and board of education members, discusses MAP test results with reporters on August 22, 2013
Credit Ryan Famuliner / KBIA

As the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education releases the latest round of MAP scores, Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Chris Belcher says, frankly, he isn’t worrying all that much about the scores this year. But he says they do still highlight one serious, known problem.

Superintendent Belcher says the MAP scores this year should be taken with a grain of salt, because the state is going through a transition period. The MAP tests will be replaced as part of the state’s planned implementation of common core standards in 2014-15. Belcher says Columbia teachers are already thinking beyond the MAP test, and have targeted their curriculum at preparing students for the new assessments, instead.

“I’m almost to the point, and I’ve said this in the past, that I just don’t even care about the MAP test anymore, because I’d be more concerned about what we believe and think,” Belcher said, referring to some of the internal learning assessment research the district conducts.

Also, the “MSIP” – the standards the state uses to determine accreditation for public schools, will be using a new version. MSIP 5 is replacing MSIP 4, so those scores don’t even actually affect accreditation this year as DESE tries out the new standards for the first time.

But the scores from 2013 in both of those standards still pointed to a known problem in the district – the achievement gap. The results show little progress in achievement among black, Hispanic, special education and English language learners, as well as students that qualify for the free and reduced school lunch program. Belcher says he’s “depressed and disappointed” in those results.

“That continues to be the problem that plagues Columbia Public Schools, we educate 70% of our students to a very high level, and we’re usually in the top 10 percentile… or above of overall achievement. But when you look in the super subgroup, we tend to be in the lower percentile of achievement,” Belcher said.

But Belcher says he thinks the district has implemented some changes this year that will help combat the issue.

“We’ve been trying lots of things, we’re really just not getting a lot of traction. That is why I’m so excited about this year. We’ve spent three years really trying to sort of turn the ship, and with true middle schools, with intervention time, and our high schools grade 9-12 with our AVID program, with our increasing kids taking advanced placement, with our preschool increase, etc; we think we’re putting systemic models in place to address that. But that certainly tends to be the glaring issue in Columbia Public Schools, everything else looks pretty good,” Belcher said.

Columbia Board of Education President Christine King recognized this challenge, and has confidence in what the district is trying to do.

“Our administrative staff and our building leaders have worked tirelessly at ‘how can we reach those kids that come from backgrounds that make learning and education and coming to school a challenge and difficult?” King said.

Columbia Public Schools students showed a drop in proficiency rates in 2013 compared to the mathematics MAP tests in 2012, especially in grades 3, 4, 7 and 8, where the rates were below the state averages. In science and communication arts scores, the proficiency rates were very similar to the previous year’s in Columbia. You can see a breakdown of this part of the scores (provided by the district) in this .pdf file.

However, district officials pointed out that 8th grade math scores were likely affected by a change in which students took that test. Students that took the more advanced Algebra 1 test used to also take the grade 8 math test. Last year, they only took the Algebra 1 test, so some of the highest performers were taken out of the grade 8 math test group.

Meantime, the district touted its high ACT and AP test scores; which continued to be well above state and national averages (you can also see those results on this .pdf). The 872 Columbia Public Schools students that took the test in 2013 did have a slightly lower average score than their counterparts in 2012 – 23.1 compared to 23.4 the previous year.