The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has released the 2023 Annual Performance Report for the schools in the state. The average decline in scores under the new system was about 5% and our district saw just over an 11% decline. The reasons for this are confusing and we are still trying to figure out exactly why since the state won’t release the formula used to calculate the performance growth portion of our accountability points.

What we do know is this: our students met the expectation for performance on the MAP test. But in this “second year” of the 6th version of the Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP6), the state had two data points to calculate student “growth” in performance. Every year, the state recalculates and re-norms the expectations after schools take the state assessment (MAP)…so schools cannot really know what the target is. We aren’t exactly sure, but it seems that if you show a lot of growth one year, you are almost assured of failing the next year. If you meet your points in “Status” for achieving on grade level, you probably aren’t going to get your “continuous improvement” points.

Besides, if schools in the U.S., or worldwide for that matter, are doing so poorly, why do they have to re-norm IQ tests upward every 15-20 years to keep the average at 100? Did you know that the average IQ has risen more than 30 points worldwide since 1909? That means that someone scoring 100 today would’ve scored a 130 in 1909. We keep raising the bar and our state assessments are no different.

We have to raise the bar to keep average in the middle, yet we are chastised for not getting more students “above average.” That makes no sense if average is always going to be calculated from the current assessment…and mathematically it makes no sense if 50% of all students will be “above average” and 50% of students will be “below average” each year. That’s the very DEFINITION of “Average.”

A teacher could do an amazing job of teaching a unit and give a test where the average was a 95%. The lowest score in the class could be a 90% (an A-) and the highest score 100%. The way schools are evaluated, despite every kid doing very well meeting the standard, the 90% kid would be “Below Basic.” The 93% kid would be “Basic.” The 97% kid would be “Proficient.” And the 100% kid would be “Advanced.”

Imagine the Kansas City Chiefs throwing a 45 yard pass from the 50-yard line. Instead of moving the ball to the 5-yard line, they move the 50-yard line to where the ball is and call the coaches and players a failure. That is what we do with re-norming every year. We can never get into the end zone.

In my opinion, the fact that pre-legislative bills were filed to make Missouri an “open enrollment” state just days before the APR was released shows how education continues to be a political football used to get votes at the polls and bills passed in the General Assembly by both Democrats and Republicans. The only time a legislator talks good about public education is if they are talking to people in their own town or if they got an education bill passed and are trying to get re-elected.

Legislators should be ashamed that they use kids and communities to mobilize their constituencies rather than actually addressing the societal problems that make 67% of new teachers leave Missouri public schools after 5 years, and very few high school students look to teaching as a desirable career. The Media Machine and Hollywood have used public schools as the kicking dog for decades and legislators have turned the public against the education system ever since the publication of “A Nation at Risk” in 1983 as part of the Cold War propaganda to shock the nation into politically motivated educational reform.

There are two things I want to make clear:

  1. Missouri educators are addressing as many student needs as we can that affect performance even though they are not directly related to the curriculum. We have students dealing with severe mental issues, family crises, dietary issues and food insecurity at home, lack of adequate housing and utilities, inadequate health care and clothing, and issues of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse in the household. Our administrative team meets with the county juvenile office, social services, and mental health providers once a month to coordinate services for these children and problem solve. Of course, all of these problems lead to an impact on the mental health and fatigue of the staff and teachers who serve these kids on a daily basis.
  2. We are addressing our ability to measure individual student growth and improve our instructional practices immediately. Even though we don’t know what the target is, we can still make sure we are on an upward trajectory. We are partnering with NWEA, who writes the Missouri MAP test, to give a benchmark assessment to measure growth on the Missouri standards 3 times a year prior to the MAP. Those results are then merged into IXL, a skill development program, and creates an individualized learning path for each student to fill in “gaps” in their knowledge and skills or push them into advanced skill if they are ready. Plus, the elementary is engaged in LETRS training to advance our reading instruction and teachers are already excited about the progress they are seeing in their students.

One of the best weapons the political arena uses to suppress achievement scores is to claim schools are “teaching to the test” as if that were a bad thing. But if the test, based on standards required by politicians, is an adequate measure of what a student should know, then why wouldn’t we teach to the test? A 16-year-old getting ready to take the driver’s test studies the Missouri Driving Handbook to prepare, and practices driving with someone who already knows how to drive. Lawyers study and practice for the bar. Doctors for the medical exams. Pilots for their pilot’s license. Only in public education do we want the student to do absolutely nothing that resembles the assessment they are expected to master at the end of the year. The only reason to have that expectation is if the goal is for them to fail.

By using the NWEA benchmark, we are assessing our progress in teaching the state standards to your children. That benchmark looks and feels like the end of year MAP so that students aren’t hampered from demonstrating their knowledge by being frustrated or unsure about how to use the tools included with the test or in how the questions are asked. Can you imagine if someone studying to take the beginning driver’s test was then placed in a 16-wheel semi and told to perform at the expected level or they would be failed and the driving instructor would be humiliated, underpaid, and threatened to be replaced?

Continuous improvement is a noble goal we, as educators, should embrace; however, we shouldn’t be expected to celebrate a system that eliminates a question from the results of the exam because too many students across the state got it right!

We will continue to do the right thing and improve education for children no matter what because children should not be pawns in grown-up games. Likewise, legislators shouldn’t get away with using your children as pawns either. Set the expectations of the test up front and do not change them every year to game the system into constant failure. There are no reasons schools should have to wait months to get final results from an online assessment unless those results are being manipulated.

Education is not a zero sum game. Everyone should want every community to have successful schools so that we have a future with a successful society. Using a “bell-shaped curve” to ensure that even if all schools end up being high performing, “losers” can still be identified and shamed if they are in the bottom 5%. That goal can only be politically motivated. I’d rather be in the bottom 5% of MENSA than in the top 10% of the Idiot’s Club.

In reading some of the pre-filed bills, non-public schools will be allowed to opt out of providing Special Education Services. They can also deny enrollment to students with discipline records. Charter schools already eliminate these students from their enrollment after their first year of attendance to help their scores improve. These schools won’t even have to enroll challenging students to begin with. If these are such great measures to stoke student achievement, why can’t public schools do this now? If these school can be instantly higher performing because they can take students who already perform better and are cheaper to educate, then public schools will have less high performing students with less funding and costlier students to educate. Research shows that lower performing students perform better when placed with higher performing peers. That was the whole premise of magnet schools.

Let’s face it, when hundreds of billions of dollars are spent on educating public school students every year, private companies are going to find ways to try to route those dollars into their pockets. Missouri education has lost billions of dollars to failed charter schools that were mismanaged or defrauded by dishonest businessmen since charter schools began in just St. Louis and Kansas City. If we have such great ideas out there about how to fix education, lets apply that to our public schools that already serve every type of child there is. Even in our small, rural district, we serve a diverse student body: minority, special needs, autistic, rich, poor, motivated, unmotivated, advanced, and delayed. Don’t skim off our rich, motivated, advanced students through open enrollment and then punish us for decreased performance.

Woodrow Wilson said in 1913, “The great melting-pot of America, the place where we are all made Americans of, is the public school, where men of every race, and of every origin, and of every station of life send their children, and where being mixed together, they are all infused with the American spirit and developed into the American man and American woman.” Are those still our expectation in Missouri? Do we want races to mix? Do we want to give every station in life opportunity? Do we want our children to be proud to be American? Do we want our children to become men and women? In this insane, present climate, I’m not so sure. Destroying our public schools is just another avenue to speed up the deterioration of this great country. If we’re worried about the quality of teaching staff or their motivation to indoctrinate our children, focus on higher education where apprentice teachers are forged to bring back destructive ideology into the school. Defund state universities and place sanctions on them. Increase the rigor and set standards of instruction for colleges and universities. Give all colleges, universities, and trade schools a public, state developed grade card so informed decisions can be made about whether to enroll there.

When you say “failing schools,” you are telling teachers that love their students that they aren’t good enough. You’re telling men and women who sacrifice time with their own families that it’s all in vain. You’re telling them that there’s a secret reservoir of teachers out there who somehow got better preparation than they did and care more than they do. You’re telling parents and communities that their own citizens aren’t fit to teach their children. And all of this when the game is really rigged to ensure schools fail.

We have entered the era of “equity.” This nasty word is supposed to shame us into shifting from equity of opportunity to equity of outcomes. In an environment where everyone has to perform at the same level, everyone is going to perform at the lowest level. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try and how much we do, individuals choose to go their own way. In the end, the only way to truly motivate everyone is to let them suffer the consequences of their poor decisions. Hunger is a great taskmaster. Get rid of entitlements and let schools eliminate children who are dangerous or distracting to those who want to learn. It would only take one generation going hungry for a few months, or having to put up with their children being at home every day (look at COVID), for school to become a place of honor and importance again. Get rid of a population of victims and enable them to become victors. The individual who earns his bread by voting for the master who hands it to him is a slave. We’ve traded cotton fields, sweat shops, the hope for better, and our souls for the bare minimum life has to offer to those who would enslave us. The ones who cry “racist” and “bigot” would have everyone groveling at their feet for a government morsel.

If we as educators have failed at anything, it isn’t reading, writing, and arithmetic. We have failed at combatting the world’s decline in fortitude, perseverance, pride, respect, responsibility, caring, love, citizenship, service, and civility. Theodore Roosevelt said, “To educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.” And here we are. We will do our part to improve student growth by focusing on our strengths and our weaknesses. Will you do yours? Will our legislators do theirs? Because if we are expected to fight this battle alone, we will fail. If the 50-yard line is always moved to where we are, we will never reach the end zone. When we reach the end zone and celebrate our touchdown, then reset us on the 50-yard line and give us a new end zone to reach. The objective should be to score touchdowns…not to demoralize, humiliate, and shame the players by making success impossible.