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The search for a new Missouri Commissioner of Education is back on, following a decision by the Missouri Board of Education (BOE) on Tuesday.
The BOE officially posted the position opening today, Sept. 19, and will accept applications and nominations through Oct. 19, 2018. A BOE subcommittee will review all applications and narrow the field to select candidates to present to the full board in closed session on Oct. 23 and final candidates will be determined for interviews in early November.
The board hopes to be able to make an offer to the final candidate in November with the expectation that the new Commissioner of Education would start in early 2019.
After close to a year of inaction on Missouri’s next version of the Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP), Assistant Commissioner Chris Neale brought the topic before the board again this week. While the program is intended to help improve schools in the state it is also the generator of the state’s only accountability statistic which can be used to compare quality and success between schools and districts — the APR score.
Neal praised the existing MSIP 5 process, which CEAM and other education reform organizations have frequently criticized for diluting actual academic performance with beefed up (and sometimes meaningless) graduation and attendance data.
“It is like looking into a Swiss watch,” Neal said of the state’s current accountability system. “The mathematics of what goes into producing that are so remarkable, but the change of assessments and a few other complications have compromised the ability of that watch to keep time as perfectly as we would like.”
Neal told the BOE that he hoped the MSIP 6 would do an even better job of crediting schools with success while not leading to data that would create outcomes for the BOE to examine.
“The higher we raise the stakes the more chances there are for bad decisions and that will not help the student,” he argued. “I don’t want to do something in this system that is intended to drive improvement that would do the opposite because we have raised the stakes too high.”
Thankfully one of the new BOE members, Carol Hallquist, pushed back noting that the proposed MISP 6, which still has no metrics to gauge what elements would have the most weight when calculating an APR score, have many more factors to measure than the current MSIP 5.
“My hope would be that academic achievement takes the forefront,” she said, noting that without that focus, “you can do all of these things and still graduate kids who cannot read past the fourth-grade level or cannot do basic algebra.”
On Tuesday, the BOE expressed some concerns with the criteria proposed by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to be used to report results from the 2017-18 end-of-year MAP and End-of-Course (EOC) assessment tests. Missouri has been identified in recent national studies as lagging behind other states on academic performance.
Last year, Missouri instituted new end-of-year assessment tests and as a result must create new score levels (called cut scores) to differentiate between below basic, basic, proficient, and advanced knowledge of subject matter based on the new tests.
BOE members questioned why the proposed cut scores were based on a vertical scale (used to help drive student growth) and also expressed concerns about the level of involvement of DESE’s Technical Advisory Committee, a national panel of education data experts, in determining the final cut scores.
During the summer the DESE worked with over 150 Missouri educators to create baseline cut scores using performance level descriptors, the content of the MAP tests, and information about Missouri students’ performance on ACT and NAEP while district leaders and higher education faculty reviewed EOC cut scores. These recommendations were then reviewed by DESE’s Technical Advisory Committee before being proposed to the BOE this week.
The state has used different assessment tests each year for the past four years. As a result, the scores from each test represent different levels of subject matter and rigor and make it very difficult to compare how schools or districts are doing from year to year.
The state expects to use the same tests and cut scores for the foreseeable future, so determining a high level of rigor in the cut scores is key to helping to turn around Missouri students’ ability to compete with students from other states.