Last year's testing data shows the Jefferson City School District performing above the state average in most subjects and across grade levels.
Data shows more students scoring proficient or advanced on the Missouri Assessment Program, commonly referred to as the MAP test, than the state average for English language arts and science, alongside higher scores on biology and government end-of-course exams.
Language arts scores didn't shift too much on the whole. On average, the district saw a 1.6 percent drop in the number of proficient and advanced students from 2020-21 to 2021-22.
i-Ready scores showed a less than 1 percent drop in students on or above grade level from the spring of 2021-2022.
Deputy Superintendent Heather Beaulieau said those numbers are evidence of a plateau.
"So we switched our focus to really improve our math scores because they were much farther behind, and so that, I feel like, had a tendency to make our reading scores plateau because we weren't putting all of our professional development into reading. But now we're studying the science of reading, we are putting more systematic instruction in place for K, 1, 2 especially, and so I think we'll see improvements again as those students start taking the state tests in 3, 4, 5, above," Beaulieu said.
And although there wasn't too much shift locally, those ELA MAP and EOC scores also came in higher than the state average across all grade levels.
The district scored a higher percentage of students at proficient or advanced for the English language arts MAP and English 2 EOC than the state and Joplin Public Schools, a district that Jefferson City usually uses for comparison because of its similar size and percentage of students on free and reduced lunch. Only third and fourth grades did not exceed the state average for their grade.
While the district has dedicated time and resources to improving students' math scores and has seen some local improvement, it remains behind the state average for math.
However, the improvement of math scores at the local level is a point of pride for district leadership. Eight schools showed growth in their math scores from last year to this year: Lawson, Belair, Callaway Hills, West, Cedar Hill and Thorpe Gordon elementaries, and Thomas Jefferson and Lewis and Clark middle schools. Pioneer Trail Elementary showed no change in scores.
In total, it's about a 1.5 percent increase across all grades, and a 6 percent increase at both middle schools.
On the i-Ready assessment, which tests math and reading improvement in three windows over the course of the year, nine schools showed an increase in the percentage of students on or above grade level at the end of the 2021-22 school year as compared to the same time the previous year.
"I am most proud of our growth in math. It's been widespread and we've put a lot of effort, we've put much of our effort, especially at the elementary level and middle school in resources and curriculum and assessment," Beaulieu said. "So I'm really proud of the number of schools who showed growth in math on the MAP test."
Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education Gary Verslues acknowledged math scores have more room to grow.
"We're seeing growth in middle school math, but it's also overall still low," he said. "But Superintendent McGraw talks about championship moments, and if we keep doing little by little, little by little turns into a lot and turns into championship moments."
Those small improvements indicate the effort the district has put into math is paying dividends, Beaulieu said.
She said the district will continue its strategy -- devoting time to professional development, revising district assessments to better reflect what students will see on statewide assessments, and eventually getting a new math textbook or teacher manual set.
In general, the district performed above the state average.
On the cumulative science portion of the MAP, which is administered in fifth and eighth grades, Jefferson City scored a higher percentage at proficient and advanced. It also exceeded the state percentage on the Biology 1 EOC.
On the government test, Jefferson City had 6 percent more high-scoring students.
And this past year, Jefferson City boasted its highest graduation rate in decades, 90.68 percent, compared to the state average of 89.73 percent.
Attendance and pandemic effects
One area the district has seen positive growth is in its attendance numbers. In the 2021-22 school year, the number of students with above 85 percent attendance was at 80.5 percent, but this year, the district is about 3 points higher. That attendance figure also includes excused absences, such as being out sick.
"I think that you can't ignore the practices that were put in place under the pandemic where if you were positive you're required to be out 10 days, and now it's you're only out five, you can come back if you're symptom-free and then wear a mask the next five days, so just looking at the recommended guidelines that we've been following, it's got to have some impact," Verslues said.
"Even before the pandemic, as a district, our attendance needed to be better, and that's where that partnership with the families is very important. We have a chance to increase student achievement if our kids are in school. So that's very important, and of course the pandemic just exacerbated that problem," Verslues added.
The pandemic also complicates efforts to look at the data from a distance.
"We're in a tough spot right now to look at trend data because of COVID," Beaulieu said.
During the spring of 2020, COVID-19 prevented standardized testing. It will be a few years before the district can look at stable scores to compare over time.
The students who are paying the highest price from the pandemic may be the youngest, Beaulieu said. Younger students have more learning loss because of the importance of the subject matter young kids are learning -- particularly the fact that they are learning to read, she said.
"I think it's going to take a few years for our K, 1, 2, students -- students that were in K, 1, 2 at the time of the pandemic -- to fully be back," Beaulieu said.
Among the top focuses, particularly in addressing math deficits, has been professional development. The district brought in both internal and external experts to talk about best teaching practices. As a whole, Beaulieu said, teachers in the district have grown more comfortable with professional development.
The district also monitors scores from standardized tests and from its own unit tests. The curriculum team uses model questions released by the state education department to create its own unit assessments to use throughout the year. These tests, designed to mimic the state tests in rigor, question type and subject, help prepare students for later tests but also help the schools track student learning regularly as the year goes on without waiting for MAP or EOC data, Verslues said.
When viewing test data, Verslues said he tries not to "overreact or under-react." Score jumps up or down may not indicate much, but if those jumps are repeated over several years, the district takes notice and calls it a trend. There may also be other factors that could change numbers from year to year, such as a school's changing boundaries, a change in leadership, or a change in the number of students on free and reduced lunch.
Other strategies the district is planning to continue include hands-on learning, increasing student engagement, differentiated support for students, and continued use of "data teaming," a collaborative departmental meeting of teachers to analyze student performance and adjust teaching methods or reteach accordingly.