Missouri’s MAP tests may soon be a thing of the past, as it’s one of 31 states working on a common assessment that could be implemented as early as the 2012 – 2013 school year. 

State Commissioner of Education Dr. Chris Nicastro says this is a way for all of the states involved to be more efficient.

“Not only are the standards and the assessments internationally benchmarked and research-based, but it eliminates all the necessity of the local districts spending so much time developing those (tests). Teachers are worn out. You know, we’ve been asking them to do that kind of work for years, and while they’ve done a great job, there’s only so much work you can ask people to do,” Nicastro said.

She says the test would be very similar, so the transition for students and teachers wouldn’t be too complex. She says the MAP tests are considered to be one of the best state assessment systems.

“Other states haven’t had quite such a robust system, so the transition may be a little more difficult for them. In Missouri, we think it’s just going to give us more material and a cost efficient and effective way of doing that assessment,” Nicastro said.

Nicastro says it will also create a more level playing field when it comes to comparing test scores state-to-state.  She says it goes hand-in-hand with the idea of ‘common core standards.’ Missouri is one of 35 states that have signed on to that endeavor, creating a common standard of what children across the country are expected to learn.

What’s more, she says schools need to think about getting their students on a level to compete internationally in today’s economy, and this will create a better basis for those comparisons, too.

“The kids in Chesterfield and Ava and St. Joseph are not competing with each other. They’re competing with Finland and Singapore and India. We have to do a better job. We have to make sure that our kids are not just getting a good education, but the best education that’s available for public school kids in the world,” Nicastro said.

Dr. Nicastro speaks at the “Missouri Public Education Vision Project” meeting

Nicastro discussed the test with the Missourinet after her keynote speech at the “Missouri Public Education Vision Project” meeting in Jefferson City. She told the crowd of administrators and school board members from across the state that Missouri is in the middle of the pack when it comes to comparing test scores and graduation rates to other states right now. She’s not satisfied with that, and says there are other areas where the state is in even worse shape.

“Last fall, 26,000 students entered Missouri’s institutions of higher education. Of those freshmen, 38% required at least one remedial course. These numbers have nearly doubled in the last five years. We can argue, and I have, that higher education must do a better job of preparing teachers if we hope to lower remediation rates,” Nicastro said.

But, Nicastro says, there is improvement needed on the part of high school teachers as well. She says the administrators, among other reforms, need to make progress on the retention rates of those teachers. Just more than half of teachers in the state leave the profession within 5 years.

She also sees pre-K education as an area where the state could see major improvement. Missouri is still near the middle of the pack on funding for those programs, but states in the top 10 spend two to four times more per student than Missouri does.

Governor Nixon set a goal earlier this month to increase the amount of Missourians who have obtained some sort of higher education degree to 60% by the year 2025, from the current figure of about 35%. Nicastro addressed that charge.

“Accomplishing this goal will require significant educational reform and major change in the entire education system pre-K through higher ed,” Nicastro said.

Nicastro stressed the importance of aiming for that goal by presenting research that estimated that by the year 2018, six out of ten available jobs would require a college degree. Three out of ten would require just a high school diploma; leaving only one job out of every ten for someone who did not graduate high school.

Following the keynote speeches, attendees spent the afternoon in breakout discussions to explore other solutions and reforms.

AUDIO: Ryan Famuliner reports [1 min MP3]