The state Annual Performance Review (APR) for the Monett R-1 School District continued to show gains. Released in August, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's assessment became the only yardstick for measuring both student and district success, now that Missouri has a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
At the August meeting of the Monett R-1 Board of Education, Assistant Superintendent Mike Dawson provided an overview of the numbers from last spring's Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) tests and other points on the APR.
Monett met the state standard on all 14 points in the APR, which would have earned the district "performance with distinction" to go with the other six plaques on the wall at the administrative office.
Graduation rate has been the most difficult point for Monett to meet in the most recent years. Dawson told The Times that in the past year, Monett High School had the highest graduation rate in district history at 93 percent. The dropout rate for last school year of 1 percent for 11 students was also the lowest on record.
MAP data creates a statistical comparison point based on five years of running data. In the last six years, Monett's overall test score for all grades combined, was above the state average in four of six years.
Dawson described three ways of looking at the data. One looks at state averages. In communication arts, for example, Monett students tested above average in fifth, sixth and seventh grades, and were below average in third, fourth and eighth grades.
At the high school level, comparisons are based on scores for the end of course exams. In English 1, Monett students scored above the state average. The English 2 students scored evenly with the state average.
Dawson said Monett's numbers are influenced by having 579 English language learners in the district, far more than any other school district in southwest Missouri.
Generally, educators agree that it takes about five years to master a language, Dawson said. Monett's numbers reflect young students with language skills start learning more slowly, which is reflected in the third and fourth grade test numbers. Past that point, test scores surge, placing Monett students favorably in comparison with any other district.
The pattern continues in math scores. Monett's third and fourth grade students scored below the state average in math. Fifth grade was even with the average, and sixth, seventh and grade grades were above average.
A second way to look at the numbers views how scores from the same group of students compares to the state average year after year.
The students who tested as sixth graders last spring offered a prime example. When they were third graders, the students scored 15 points below the state average in math. As fourth graders, they scored only one point better. As fifth graders, their scores rose to five points above the state average. As sixth graders, they scored 16 points above the state average.
"This is a consistent pattern we see," Dawson said. "There are a few blips, but most times, from third to eighth grade, we see scores have grown from 20 to 30 points. Over and over, we see our students break into the top 10 in the state at different times in the progression. Sometimes we don't always maintain that."
A third way to look at scores compares Monett numbers with 30 southwest Missouri school districts, regardless of size. With the highest number of English language learners in all 30 districts, Monett's scores generally produce a favorable comparison over time.
In communication arts, for example, Monett's students scored 27th of 30 in the third grade, rose to 24th in fourth grade, hit sixth at fifth grade, then dropped to 10th at sixth grade.
The school-by-school comparison offered an interesting discovery this year in looking at the algebra 1 scores for ninth graders. Over a six-year period, Monett's students had started at ninth in the 30 schools, scored first and then fourth two years ago. Last spring, their scores dropped to 26th.
"Why did that happen?" Dawson said. "It looks like our students were missing a concept. The problem is either in aligning our instruction with what's being tested, the rigor of our assessment is not on target, or it's our instruction. We're trying to confront all three at the same time."
A new online tool, Build Your Own Curriculum (BYOC), has been introduced for teachers. The computer program helps teachers match their instruction to state objectives. Dawson said BYOC also offers a variety of learning activities that students can do on their own or in groups. The teacher will decide how each student learns best, and assign the activities that will build and sustain the needed knowledge.
Dawson said this year administrators are also modifying their strategy of classroom visits. Administrators are reducing their classroom observations to monitor teacher performance and adding more face-to-face visits, talking about specific points.
"It's more about coaching," Dawson said. "It's how to get better, what can we do to improve our instruction to get the most our of the kids. We're definitely going in the right direction."
On other points in the APR, Monett High School students taking the ACT college entrance exams are now scoring at the national average. The graduation rate has improved to the state average. Attendance rated high. Career education courses have an improved rating with more instructors being certified within the trade area they teach.
"To have as many challenges as we have, I think we are exceeding the standard," Dawson said. "It comes back to the dedication of our people. Teachers are dissecting data together as teams. That's such a shift from teachers working on their own.
"Building a learning community is making a huge difference," Dawson continued. "When adults talk the same language and have the same goals, and principals are leading, students at all the buildings are responding."