EDITORIAL: Missouri should use low test scores to focus on areas of improvement

·2 min read

Sep. 16—The results are in, and students' English and math scores took a hit during the pandemic.

Data from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education show that across the state, 45% of students scored at advanced or proficient levels on the 2020-21 standardized tests in English language arts. About 37% were advanced or proficient at science, and just 35% were advanced or proficient in math.

Those numbers represent a drop in scores across all subjects and grades. State education officials said a number of factors, most related to the pandemic, played a role in that decline.

To be sure, it certainly was a year marked with uncertainty, stress and sickness. Classrooms and sometimes entire schools switched between open and closed. Quarantines and positive diagnoses took students and staff members out of the classroom for days, perhaps weeks, at a time. Students and teachers had to learn how to use virtual options for instruction and to adapt to technology that didn't always work correctly.

All of that is to say, first of all, that Missouri students, teachers and staff definitely deserve praise for persevering through the academic year and even taking the standardized tests at all. Regardless of what the scores show, you deserve credit for keeping the educational experience going during a global pandemic.

Even so, the test scores exist, and they demonstrate that some of that educational experience suffered last year. So what now?

Instead of using the drop in scores to bash teachers and students, let's use it to determine how schools should proceed this year, which is also taking place entirely during a pandemic.

Administrators should be able to identify which student groups lagged behind academically during the pandemic, where unreliable technology and internet access might have hindered learning, which content areas saw the biggest drop in scores and whether there was a difference between in-person and virtual instruction.

Once they know that, schools can begin to focus on those areas of weakness, perhaps by offering additional professional development to teachers, putting more resources toward bridging the digital divide, targeting underperforming student groups and prioritizing effective modes of instruction.

No one likes to see test scores decline, but Missouri educators can take this as an opportunity for improvement.

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