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DESE alters rules on state exams amid coronavirus shakeups

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Board of Education voted to alter the state’s use of standardized test results for the current school year.

Under the new rule, districts would still administer state examinations — such as the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) Test — but would not use the data for state or federal accountability measurements. Results would still be examined by the district and the state to determine how schools have fared with the volatile school year and assess the level of learning loss in their communities. 

“Accountability systems are built around standard metrics: The 2020‐2021 school year is anything but standard,” said DESE Assistant Commissioner Chris Neale. “Data should not be compared to years prior without the context of this year. Instruction is more varied than ever before, and it’s clear we must acquire and provide the best possible data on students.”

DESE opted to cancel state assessments in the spring and suspend its Annual Performance Report (APR), making it difficult to collect data and assess the impact the pandemic had on the last school year, members discussed at Tuesday’s meeting. The new rule seeks to collect that information for 2021 and use it to gauge the impacts of the pandemic on education.

“We test to understand how students are doing and learning and examine the achievement gap,” Standards and Assessment Administrator Lisa Sireno said. 

Sireno said testing was vital for accountability and other important areas in a normal school year, but the current reality made the collection of data complicated and created an additional burden for educators. 

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a volatile spring and fall semester for Missouri schools. According to DESE, 13 percent of Missouri’s schools are offering distance-only learning, while nearly 74 percent offer a choice, and the remainder are taking a blended approach, transitioning students between onsite and remote learning. 

The board accepted the department’s recommendation during Tuesday’s agenda meeting, with Neale noting the conversation on testing and data would carry over to future meetings as conditions in the education sector continue to change. The board said it would consider looking into new testing options in the future to accommodate the situation, including maximizing the testing window and safe ways to administer tests onsite, since state tests require supervision and cannot be done remotely. 

The board also approved the publication of a proposed rule to state regulations on charter schools. Neal said the legislature did not include a provision on the transfer of sponsorship when it established charter schools in 1998, and it was an obligation of the board and the department to clarify the process and standards for transferring responsibilities from one sponsor to another. Under the amendment, the board would be required to consider and approve the transfer of sponsorship and establish standards for institutions hoping to take on a charter school. 

Institutions would be mandated to prove their financial health, compliance with state and departmental standards, and evidence the transfer would be in the best interests of students in order to take on a charter school. The board approved an extension of the typical comment period from 30 to 60 days in deference to the holidays and delays from the pandemic. 

The board voted to approve the publication of a proposed amendment establishing new standards for Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program (MOCAP) providers. The provision would establish standards for monitoring student progress, corrective action, instruction processes, and access requirements for the programs.

Board members also voted to condense the school counselor certificates for K-8 and 7-12 into a single certificate and rescinded a rule on charter schools for redundancy, in addition to revoking the teaching licenses of three Missouri educators. 

The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Jan. 12.