ORAN -- Faculty and administrators at Oran R-3 School District didn't have to petition for Missouri's top official for public education to visit their school -- they just had to score really high on their Missouri Assessment Program tests.
Fourth grade teacher Kristina Roslen pointed out Thursday's visit by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Kent King felt almost like the President of the United States was coming to the school.
"I was nervous," admitted Roslen, whose classroom was visited by King.
It's really rare for the commissioner to visit a school, noted superintendent Mitch Wood. It's also an extreme honor, he said.
King, accompanied by his wife, Sandy, had visited Fredericktown and Sullivan middle schools earlier Thursday and is set to visit Dexter High School today in an effort to commend the districts for their improvement on MAP test scores.
For the 2002-2003 school year, 25 percent of Oran's fourth graders scored in the top two levels of the math portion of the MAP test. And this year's scores, which are from the 2003-2004 school year, jumped to 44 percent in the proficient and advanced levels of fourth grade math.
Kristy Unger, district test coordinator for Oran R-3, admitted she's proud of the school. "It's the teachers and students who deserve the credit because they're the ones who've done all the work," she said.
Unger said there's no magic potion for scoring high on the MAP test, but the school does utilize all available resources such as released test items. Teachers and administrators also attend workshops and align their curriculums, she added.
The process for King's visit to districts evolved when DESE held a press conference on Aug. 19 to release the statewide press scores, and when King said to the media then, "This isn't the real story of education. The real story of education goes on out to the classrooms of the schools all over the state of Missouri."
So King took his stance on the road. On Thursday, the Oran faculty got to see a softer side of the state's education department.
"The real story isn't in MAP scores or in the legislature -- it's in the classroom. Kids getting on the yellow bus riding to school, having school, learning, enjoying themselves, feeling secure -- all of those things are what matter, and that's the story about education," King said.
Although King commended the Oran teachers and administrators for their work, kids were his main focus.
"Test scores are a reflection of what kids have learned, and I'm not going to downplay it," King told the group of teachers and administrators. "I'm going to suggest to you that the real important thing is kids."
King went on to tell the group a true story of a fifth grader years ago named Ben who performed well in school until his father died in the third grade, and his mother died in the fourth grade.
Fifth grade came and Ben's teacher, Miss Thompson, didn't know her student's background, King recalled. Christmas came, King said, and Ben brought two gifts for his teacher: a bracelet with half the rhinestones missing and half a bottle of perfume.
"And you can bet it wasn't Chanel," King told the crowed. "Miss Thompson sprinkled the perfume on, and the next day Ben stayed after school and said, 'Miss Thompson, yesterday when you walked by me, you smelled like my mother.'"
Ben had a great second half of fifth grade and a great sixth grade, King said. Then he changed schools, and years later Miss Thompson received letters from Ben when he graduated high school, college and medical school, King explained, adding she also received a letter from Ben saying, he was getting married and would like the teacher to sit in as his mother.
"Ben didn't become an outstanding physician in the state of Indiana just because Miss Thompson taught him math or science or even art," King said. "He became an outstanding individual because she taught him that she cared. She cared enough to do something that enabled him to learn."
King continued: "Don't think you can separate the two things, and I think a lot of people, like me, talk about test scores, and the importance of them, and I remind you, that's why I'm here, but I don't think that's why we have schools. I think we have school for kids. We just have to make we sure don't lose balance of that."
King also admitted parental involvement is huge in a child's performance on the MAP test.
Following King's address, third grade teacher Connie White said she was pleased with what King had to say.
"It's nice to know state officials realize that although test scores are extremely important, there's more to teaching than yearly test scores," White said. "And teachers can truly have an impact on students' lives in ways that are just as important as academic success."