by Debbie Coleman-Topi
A frequent watchdog of the Platte County School District’s is citing a misstatement at last week’s board of education meeting as one example of what he claims is often misleading information offered by the district.
Kirby Holden, who maintains a website (plattecountyr3facts.com) that is sometimes critical of the district administration's practices and words, claims that his thwarted attempt to correct an inaccurate statement by a district official during Thursday’s meeting is proof of the district's attempts to mislead the public about district practices, policies and test outcomes.
“This is not an open forum,” Superintendent Dr. Mike Reik told Holden during the meeting. “You know that.”
Holden was attempting to correct a statement by Dr. Mike Brown, assistant superintendent, that a less than “proficient” score on a statewide algebra assessment would cause the students to be ineligible for A +, a program that allows college students to attend Metropolitan Community College tuition-free.
However, a check of the Missouri Department of Higher Education's website, which manages the A + program, shows that eligibility can be granted by several means, including a stipulation that allows students who don't score at the minimally-
required “proficient” level in algebra one to re-test.
Students also may qualify for the program by scoring proficient in algebra on other tests, including the state's COMPASS exam or a combined score on the state's college entrance exam (known as ACT) when combined with the student's high school GPA.
“There are other measures,” said Jessica Duren, communications specialist for the Department of Higher Education during a telephone interview. “It's not like the student is out of luck if they can't pass,” she clarified.
During the five minutes that school board policy allows patrons to comment in board meetings, Holden questioned why only a small percentage of R-3’s students were administered statewide assessments in geometry and American history. He accused the district of trying to hide poor-performing students. By not testing, those students' scores are not published on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website, which publishes all Missouri school district test scores. The practice allows parents and patrons to compare scores across districts and to assess the effectiveness of school districts' teaching methods and practices.
“We're (the R-3 district) going to look good on paper because we're testing the kids who are going to test well,” Holden said during his allotted five minutes.
However, during his presentation, Brown said the district had limited those tested to a small percentage and required low-performing students to repeat the basic high school algebra course. “This was not done to improve scores,” he said. “It was done to help children.”
During an interview after the meeting, Brown stated that the district could not forever hide lagging scores because of a new state requirement that all students take the ACT college entrance exam before graduation. He stated that ACT scores eventually would reveal students' math proficiency. But, Holden stated that the practice could be misleading by allowing the district to hide poor performers who are required to repeat the basic algebra class instead and are tested, in some cases, years later.
Holden is also critical of what he says is R-3’s lack of testing in geometry and American history.
Brown further explained that DESE doesn't require districts to test students in geometry and American history using the statewide assessments but offers other alternatives. “We don't have to—we can use our local assessments,” he said. “Why would we pay money for that?”
When a reporter mentioned that other area districts, such as Park Hill and West Platte, administer statewide assessments to most of their students (which are reported on the DESE website), Brown said, “Maybe you (the reporter) and Kirby should go ask them why they aren't testing all their students.”