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School districts and parents will be seeing some changes to how Annual Performance Report results are presented this year, according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Rather than the usual massive spreadsheets of numbers, there are friendly looking colors. Districts aren't even receiving numerical total scores.

There are a couple reasons for the dramatic change, Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven said.

"It's really because of all the alterations that need to be made to percentage points earned due to new testing," she explained during a Tuesday conference call with the media. "With four different tests in five years, hold harmless and even some changes to college and career readiness we got lots of questions about what these percentages really mean."

For the last several years, districts and members of the public alike have had to contend with an inability to compare each year's scores to the preceding year. Every time DESE issues a new official test in math, for example, the results from that year can't be compared to the year before, making it impossible to track trends. Additionally, DESE had to tweak scores to ensure schools didn't lose accreditation due to rocky results after a new test (the "hold harmless" Vandeven mentioned).

This year, the math and English language arts tests remained the same, but districts officially took a new science test and field-tested a new social studies test. Rather than watching districts struggle with comparing apples to oranges, DESE devised what Vandeven described as a temporary solution.

New system

Though schools and the public will still be able to access supporting data, the result will be presented first in a color-coded format showing whether districts are meeting, failing to meet or exceeding state-set goals in each area of assessment.

"There are no changes to the standards but the display is somewhat different," said Chris Neale, DESE's assistant commissioner for the office for quality schools.

Scores in each category — whether that be math, attendance, or college and career readiness — are still split similarly.

"Though final point totals will not be displayed this year, all data that has previously been taken into account will still be taken into account," Vandeven emphasized.

Districts will continue to be assessed based on their three-year average, individual gains among students and year-to-year progress at the district level. The color-coding gives context to the numbers, showing whether they're in-line with state goals for districts.

For example, if a district had a five-percent increase in its attendance from 2018 to 2019, its progress in that category would be color-coded blue (for exceeding expectations). Updates to the public APR portal will include hover-over explanations for the various scores and colors.

"(This approach) removes that single score, which, like a letter grade, is handy to hang your hat on but doesn't necessarily contain a lot of information," Neale said. "This approach will allow parents to see very clearly what the achievement and improvement is for any content area across the board."

Vandeven acknowledged this change might make side-by-side comparison between districts trickier for parents. But she said she sees advantages to this system, too. She said it will allow districts to more easily share about their progress in areas important to the community.

"We've been hearing that local context matters," she said. "The advice we've been giving (districts is to) be transparent, use it as improvement guide and lean on the community to provide assistance. If community values improvement in reading, let's focus on reading; if it values the ability to enter the workforce, let's focus on that area."

APR results were sent to media Tuesday but will remain embargoed until later this week.

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