JEFFERSON CITY - When the state Education Board passed the ShowMe standards amid a storm of controversy in January, critics attacked the standards for their lack of specifics. Now the department is working to flesh out those standards with statewide assessments and frameworks for school curricula.
These twin engines are what education officials hope will drive Missouri's new education system, as based on the ShowMe standards. The education system overhaul was mandated by the 1993 Outstanding Schools Act.
A draft of the curriculum frameworks approved at the Education Board's March meeting is being distributed to schools around the state to solicit opinions from educators.
These frameworks include sample exercises and guidelines for teaching under the standards. According to Education Department officials, teachers will be able to use the frameworks in conjunction with statewide assessments, which also are being developed, in preparing classes.
The frameworks are intended as guides for some schools, and are therefore not designed as comprehensive curriculum.
"This is a tool for schools who want help in developing their own curriculum," said Peter Herschend, president of the state Education Board.
A final version of the frameworks will come before the board in September. More than the curriculum frameworks, however, school districts will be paying close attention to the statewide assessment system being developed.
The revised assessment system, will replace the MMAT, Missouri's current statewide test. The department has set a timetable for the completion of the assessment's six parts: math, communication arts, science, health/physical education, fine arts and social studies.
The math part of the assessment system is scheduled for implementation by Spring 1997. The other parts will follow and the entire system is scheduled to be in place by spring 2000.
Each of these areas will use three different methods for testing students, said Jim Friedebach, who is in charge of developing the assessments.
The first section will consist of multiple choice questions, a simple and effective way to determine a student's basic knowledge, Friedebach said. The "constructive response" section requires students to work through a problem and explain how they did it, which could include such exercises as bisecting an angle.
The third section of the tests, labelled "performance events," involves more practical, hands-on problems that could take a student up to 45 minutes to complete.
An example of this offered by Friedebach would be a test question requiring the student to fill out part of a 1040 income tax form. This section is the heart of the standards' practical application theme.
"We're finally getting kids to apply information, not just remember it," said Arnold Lindaman, a educator from Northwest Missouri.
Lindaman was one of many educators from around the state who met in Jefferson City March 28 to set guidelines for the content of the math assessment. Summaries of the group's work are being distributed across the state to be evaluated by more teachers.
In April, the completed math pilot assessment will be given to groups of students around the state. Teacher work groups will score the test and a compilation of all of the teachers' work will be sent to CTB/McGraw Hill, a company that puts together assessments for school systems around the country.
"We're using teachers as much as we can, but we also need some assessment professionals to work on this," Friedebach said.
CTB/McGraw Hill will help design specific items for the test in June at a conference with state teachers.
Also to be thrown into the mix is work being done by the New Standards project, a cooperative effort of 19 states. Sen. Joe Maxwell, D-Mexico, is Missouri's representative on the project's governing board.
The project hires professional assessment experts to help them build up a pool of test questions. These questions are then tried out on different tests throughout the states involved in the project to determine if they are valid questions.
The project will be finished by the end of this year and member states will then be able to pick and choose between the hodgepodge of questions in the pool, Maxwell said.
"We'll be able to take what suits our needs," Maxwell said.
Inclusion in the project costs Missouri $1 million. The state has already paid $750,000 of that money and is supposed to make a final payment of $250,000 out of this year's budget.
But this is only part of the total cost of the development process. Work groups and contracts with CTB/McGraw Hill cost money as well.
Unlike multiple choice questions, which are considered relatively inexpensive to develop, the other two sections of the tests being developed must be graded by hand, an expensive and time-consuming process, Friedebach said.
"The kind of test we're developing is going to cost more money," Friedebach said.
Despite the high cost of developing testing that focuses on performance problems, the Education Department may have to get the job done with less money than they planned.
In March, the Senate appropriations committee removed about $250,000 from the money allocated for assessment and curriculum framework development, a cut of about 30 percent. The full Senate approved the cut last week.
Friedebach said the developing the total assessment system might take longer if the budget passes through the legislature without full funding of the assessment development section.
"I guess what they might be telling me is don't develop this test as quickly," he said.
Sen. Dave Klarich, R-St. Louis County, wanted the Senate to remove the money from the new standards project, and keep it out.
Klarich, who claims the Education Department has been violating several provisions of the Outstanding Schools Act in developing assessments, said removal of the funding would let the department know they need to start following the rules.
"They've begun implementing an assessment system in violation of the law," Klarich said. "No one is holding them accountable. It's out of hand and no one seems to care."
Regardless of the departments' actions, however, Klarich said the money being spent on the New Standards project is being wasted.
"Sen. Maxwell's saying let's wait and see if we get anything out of this," Klarich said. "I believe if you've wasted $750,000, and then you have the chance to save $250,000, then you should."
Maxwell maintains that not seeing the project through would be a real waste of money.
"[The Education Department] has not always followed the law under Senate Bill 380 and I won't hold up for them when they don't," Maxwell said. "But killing a $750 million investment would be silly."
Klarich said he doubts the cut will have a real effect on the development process because the money will be restored before the legislature passes a final budget.
"I think this money will be put back in conference committee," Klarich said.