“We’re not out of the woods,” said State Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven. Her response centers around student scores on state-mandated tests given during the 2022-23 school year.

A preliminary report released at Tuesday’s State Board of Education meeting shows Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) test scores for Missouri K-12 public school students have not reached pre-pandemic levels. Schools nationwide have been struggling to get test scores back on track since COVID-19 disrupted learning.

The report shows slightly better English scores in elementary and high school and slightly lower or flat scores in middle school. Math and Science scores held steady or were slightly higher in all grades and courses. Social studies scores fell.

Vandeven said many reasons contribute to these scores.

“One primary area that we cannot lose sight of is that of having a great teacher in every classroom,” she said. “We still have a significant teacher shortage. I’m still hearing reports from schools where they have all substitute teachers in the classroom. There are still vacancies. I mean, that impacts student learning.”

Vandeven said other factors contributing to the scores include the mental health of students and a continued problem with chronic absence from school.

The commissioner said the state must “double down” on the focus of education initiatives, such as early learning, literacy efforts, as well as growing teachers, administrators, and school board members.

“We have to keep the resources coming to our children. This should be a continued call for us to do that,” she said. “It’s deflating right now as you heard a lot of the superintendents talking about how their teachers feel sometimes when they see that. We’re all working hard. We can’t stop.”

Board member Kerry Casey, of Chesterfield, said the results are disheartening.

“I agree that there are a lot of good things in motion and I hang a lot of hope on those. I think it’s going to be so important to continue to be focused on them and get the updates so we can see if they’re coming together,” said Casey. “In one way, this might be even more support for the innovation program because we can’t continue on with results like this. And while I agree that some of it is COVID, I just don’t think it’s all. I think it’s absolutely the lack of teachers and behavior in the classroom and just so many other things. It’s just hard to be patient and wait for all of that to come together.”

Board member Peter Herschend, of Branson, said the scores are not impressive but he said the environment has been difficult for students.

“They’re kind of depressing because nothing changed,” he said. “I understand COVID and, you know, that obviously is a factor, but nothing changed significantly positive or negative. One or two went way, way down but not very many.”

Board President Charlie Shields, of St. Joseph, said the scores may not show the improvement that people want, but processes are in place to get there.

“You’re really two years out from COVID, so I don’t think you would expect huge bumps based on, you know, we’re still trying to do education recovery in many cases,” said Shields.

Board member Mary Schrag, of West Plains, also weighed in.

“Although obviously we’re not where we want to be, and actually since COVID there were definitely some drops, but when I look at traditional public ed we’re pretty solid in terms of we didn’t have drastic drops,” said Schrag.

According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, more than 95% of students participated in the testing.

The department plans to release district-level test results in October or November.

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