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Lawmakers push to lower testing standards for Missouri students

January 15, 2004
By: Aidian Holder
State Capital Bureau

It's not something you hear often . . . but some lawmakers in Jefferson City say they want to lower the standards for reporting student tests in elementary and high schools in Missouri. Aidian (uh-dee-an) Holder explains why they say lower standards would be good for kids.

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Missouri has some of the highest standards for student testing in the nation. By eight grade students are supposed to be able to analyze literature for literary devices and universal themes. By eleventh grade they should be able to use logarithims to solve equations.

These standards . . . from the Missouri Assesment Program or MAP . . . were established in the mid 90s, and educators set them high to give Missouri something to shoot for.

But with the new No Child Left Behind act, the MAP test took on new significance. All states are required to test students every year, but they're allowed wide latitude in how to test them and what standards to use. Missouri decided to continue using its MAP test to measure student achievment.

And that's the rub for educators and lawmakers. The Federal government now requires all students to meet the standards in a decade, and for all schools to meet benchmarks along the way. Only half of Missouri school districts last year met the state's goals, and many educators blame that on unreasonably high standards in the MAP test.

Adding to the frustration felt by some, many of these schools that fail to meet the targets are considered to be excellent schools, like the one's in state Senator Mike Gibbon's suburban St. Louis county district.

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But it's not only student achievment or institutional pride that's at issue. The No Child Left Behind law says that school districts that don't meet the targets can be penalized . . . penalties that can eventually cost millions of dollars.

State's can set the bar for testing anywhere they want, as long as it meets federal minimums, and educators say this puts them in a cruel paradox, where they're punished for aiming high while states with low standards get a pass.

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And that's just what Missouri may do. State Senator Gary Nodler, a Joplin Republican, has introduced a bill that would not only lower Missouri's testing standards to the federal minimums, but would mandate that they never exceed those standards.

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Contents: "This bill explicity says in no part will the state standard exceed the national standard.

Nodler refuses to characterize the move as a lowering of standards, instead refering to it as quote "recalibration," and educators like Mike Wood of the Missouri Teacher's Association insist that the plan will simply make the scores reflect the reality in the classroom.

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Contents: Wood says Missouri teacher's want "valid accountability," and that's not being provided by the current system

The backing of Wood and the Teacher's Association, along with the endorsment of most other Missouri education groups, suggests the measure is likely to become law . . . the Republican leadership has found democratic co-sponsors for the bill in both houses and promises to fast track it as one of their major legislative priorities, and Democrats, who might have liked to jump on the GOP for lowering standards, could be loathe to cross their usual allies: teacher's and school administrators.

From the State Capitol, I'm Aidian Holder