JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Preliminary test scores show Missouri students are still not performing as well in school as they were before the pandemic.

It’s no surprise that the pandemic affected students’ learning. Initial 2022–2023 Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) test scores show that while there was an increase in math, English language arts and science, there was a decline in social studies. The report shows higher English scores in elementary and high school but lower or flat scores in middle schools.

Starting this school year, 20 districts will be allowed to use their own assessment plan, instead of the state’s end-of-year evaluation system.

“A number of school leaders and local school boards have come together to say, let’s give this a run and see if we can figure out a way to do things a little bit better,” Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven said.

A new plan to measure student achievement by using alternative assessments had been in the works for years before COVID-19.

“The mental health needs of our children are still very great, and we are focusing on that as a state, and we need to continue to focus on that, but it does impact student performance,” Vandeven said. “We’ve also talked about chronic absenteeism, and until we make sure that all our kids are in school, I mean, it makes a difference.”

It’s called the innovation waiver, and starting this school year, 19 districts and one charter school have been approved to break from the state’s evaluation system.

“I think the other thing from an innovation perspective, it’s really hard to create more effective programs if we don’t step out of the box a little bit,” Missouri State Board of Education member Mary Schrag said.

Jeremy Tucker is the superintendent at Liberty 53 School District which is one of the schools approved for the waiver. Tucker said the district will give students three assessment tests a year.

“Think of this as being personalized or shifting to being learner centered, but it also expands to the parent in the home, multiple times during the course of the year,” Tucker said. “The assessment is a conduit to be able to gauge that progress that the student is making and then cause that teacher to adjust.”

This pilot program requires districts to report student results. Those in favor of the waiver said it also gives teachers a chance to modify the course work for students.

“They [teachers] get those results back immediately, they are able to adjust, and they are able to adapt in the middle of the year and then have the end of the year instead of waiting until the end of the year for that diagnostic,” Vandeven said.

The 20 districts receiving the waiver will still be federally required to give their students the end of the year MAP test, but those schools will not be scored at the state level based on those results. The innovation waivers come after the General Assembly passed legislation in 2022 allowing schools to use their own assessment program.

“The most meaningful piece is the story from teachers that make the shift from traditional to more personalized learning and their comments in and around, I would never go back, and we hear that from our teachers,” Tucker said.

The districts approved for the innovation waiver are: Affton 101, Branson R-IV, Center 58, Confluence Academies charter school, Fayette R-III, Lebanon R-III, Lee’s Summit R-VII, Lewis County C-1, Liberty 53, Lindbergh, Lonedell R014, Mehlville R-IX, Neosho, Ozark R-VI, Parkway C-2, Pattonville R-III, Raymore-Peculiar R-II, Ritenour, Shell Knob 78, and Ste. Genevieve County R-II.

For districts that are interested in the innovation waiver, Vandeven says there will be a time in the future to possibly apply.

“That is why it’s a pilot and you don’t go into a pilot thinking I just want to keep it all to myself,” Vandeven said. “I think if there are other districts who are interested, pay very close attention, as we will be doing, and hear up to potentially see an expansion.”

The preliminary MAP test scores show 22% of students are proficient in math, which is no change from 2022 . “Proficient” means meeting expectations for moving on to the next grade level. There was no change in science from 2022 to 2023 at 24%. There was also no change in English, at 28%. Preliminary results show that social study scores were mixed.

Vandeven said scores will be finalized later this year. Click here to see the results from DESE presented to the State Board of Education earlier this month.