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2019 APR: Missouri schools are not improving

This week Missouri released new data on student performance and the news is not good.

Accessing the new data is hard, and comprehending it might be even harder, but there are two key points that are pretty simple to understand.

  1. Across the state student performance did not improve, and in many cases actually decreased from 2018 to 2019.
  2. The gaps in performance between affluent districts and economically or socially disadvantaged districts are growing, meaning many of the bad schools are getting worse.

We will delve into the new data more in the comming weeks, but it is worth highlighting some key problems with accessing and understanding the data as it has just been released.

Finding the data

The first issue is that it is very, very hard to actually find the new data.

At CEAM, we spend a lot of time combing through the complex data maze that is housed on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) website.

It is never easy, but we have gotten pretty good at finding what we need.

But the search for this year’s data, which the department has heralded as being redesigned to make it easier for parents to access and understand, turned out to be an extremely challenging task.

There is no banner or big headline on DESE’s website pointing parents to the new key data.

So our journey to find the data started with DESE’s main data portal where you can find a lot of complex spreadsheets, but not the easy to access data promised in a press release from DESE.

We then watched an 8-minute Youtube video the department created explaining how to access school data, and still had no idea how to view the 2019 data.

Finally, we called the department and after being transferred three times we reached a person who could talk us through the process of accessing the new data.

You have to go to the home page, click on a tab at the bottom of the page labeled “Data” and then select a small link called “MCDS Portal” which takes you another complex page where you have find a small link on the side (it may be hidden depending on the size of your screen) called “School Performance & Accountability.”

Now, if you have had the foresight to turn on the “Show all content” button which is set to off by default, you will be presented by a wall of options for data. The one you want is called “2019 MSIP5 District/Charter APR Summary Report – Public.”

Clicking on that will finally take you to a third page where you can select your district and hopefully see the new data. Make note that if you want all of the data previously included in the APR report you have to pay attention to some small links at the top of the page.

Understanding the new data

If you have managed to make it this far, then you are faced with new problems — actually understanding the new data.

The Kansas City Star’s editorial board did a great job of calling DESE out for how useless the data format is for a layperson.

The reality is that the new display of information is much harder to understand than simple APR scores, but in the long run, it may provide more meaningful data to actually see how a school is doing.

The problem is that DESE does not make that data easy to understand. Confusing terms like “Floor,” “Approaching,” “On Track,” and “Exceeding” complicate the new system. It would have been better if DESE used common sense terms like, “Failing,” “Below Average,” and “Average.”

Terminology aside, the data is actually much more useful than a blanket APR score when it comes to understanding how a school is doing at actually improving its performance and helping its kids increase their knowledge over time.

But really understanding that data requires reading a 76-page PDF found on yet another DESE webpage that is filled with hard to comprehend acronyms like GLA, NCE, MPI, El, FAY, and IRC.

While it is not impossible for most parents to understand all of this, it will likely lead them to other acronyms like OMG or WTF.

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