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Educators in favor of new requirements

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

SIKESTON -- Local educators are embracing the state Board of Education's recent decision to replace the current Missouri Assessment Program test for public high school students with a slate of "end-of-course" exams starting in spring 2009.

Dr. Cindy Amick, director of curriculum and instruction at New Madrid County R-1 School District, said she's happy with the new requirement.

"It's something we've needed for a long period of time and something that will allow students to be more accountable," Amick said.

During its Feb. 16 meeting, the board approved a recommendation by Commissioner of Education Kent King to replace the current MAP tests, which have been mandatory for grades 10 and 11 for almost a decade, with statewide final exams for algebra I, English II and biology.

"I think it's a positive move and a long time coming," East Prairie Superintendent Scott Downing said.

Downing said he hopes with these tests comes a curriculum districts can follow instead of the current grade-level expectations, or GLEs, offered by the state.

"This (requirement) will make it easier for school districts to prepare for (than the MAP) because it's subject specific, Downing said. Amick agreed.

"It's going to be a lot better -- not only for students but teachers as well," Amick said. "This will allow all GLEs to be clustered together in an area," Amick said.

For example, right now high schools may have a problem deciding where to fit earth science into their curriculum -- should it be in a physical science or biology class? The requirement will tell them which class it should be offered.

"We constantly realign our curriculum, but this will make the alignment much easier," Amick said.

Sikeston Senior High School Principal Tom Williams said he's also pleased with the state's decision.

"What's nice about this is the immediate feedback we'll receive," Williams said. "They take the test now and get the test results back before the conclusion of that semester."

This is different from the MAP test results, which aren't received until the following school year.

Amick said she liked the quick turnaround of test results, too.

DESE Spokesperson Jim Morris said statewide the reaction from educators has been mixed.

"Some like the MAP just the way it is. Some say, 'I think we should've adopted the ACT, just plain and simple use the ACT.' And there's a lot of interest in advocacy for the end-of-course exams," Morris said.

Morris said the exams may be able to affect a student's final grade.

"Initially it was reported the exams would count but no decision has been made yet by the state.

"The way this was discussed was apparently one state has a state requirement that the test score must count for some portion of the student's final grade, and the example in that state is 10 percent," Morris said.

If the state does make a requirement to count the test for some portion of a student's grade, Williams said he hopes the percentage is higher than 10 percent.

"I don't know that 10 percent is enough to have an impact on the class. The amount will have to increase," the Sikeston principal said, adding the local school board could raise the percentage higher.

Morris pointed out some local high schools already count finals as a portion of a student's final grade.

With many details remaining to be worked out, Morris said at least the exams for the initial three subjects would have some MAP-like components, such as a combination of open-ended and multiple choice items.

Morris said there would be ways to still have results back to teachers before the end of the class. However, the mechanics of how that gets done aren't completely settled, he said.

The pieces that have to be hand scored could be graded locally or given earlier in the semester, Morris said.

State officials also hope to create end-of-course exams for other classes such as government and American history, geometry, English I, physical science and chemistry. These exams would not be available until 2010, at the earliest.

The State Board of Education previously considered but rejected a proposal to adopt a college-entry exam, such as the ACT, as a requirement for all high school students.

The requirement is something the state and schools have worked on for 14 years.

"We're finally able to have an assessment in the high school to coordinate what students should know and what they should be able to do," Amick said. Amick said she doesn't think students will be excited one way or another. However, she does think it will motivate them to perform better if they know the exams could affect their final grade, she said.

"I don't see really any downsides to it," Amick said about the new requirement. "I think this is what we've been needing to do and to help our schools be where we need to be."