JEFFERSON CITY, MO. — A group of Missouri lawmakers are focused on increasing transparency and accountability in schools. A Senate interim committee met Monday to discuss the Missouri School Improvement Plan (MSIP).

Previously, the system was only based on assessment test scores, but the pandemic impacted how the program worked. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Commissioner Margie Vandeven spoke to the committee about the changes. 

“The scoring guide has shifted from 100% just on test scores and outputs to thinking about 70% of it being on that and then 30% on continuous improvement,” said Vandeven. “We have students who really did thrive throughout the pandemic, minimal disruption to their classroom experience and really did very, very well. We have other students who probably didn’t return to a classroom.”

The state updates its MSIP about every four to five years. In MSIP5, Vandeven said it was hard to tell if a school district was accredited on growth or improvement. 

“We’re trying hard in MSIP6 to get that balance right of providing solid statewide accountability, but giving our districts enough autonomy to really serve and honor their local context in the best way,” said Vandeven. “We’re going to be talking about success-ready students and looking at if our students are ready to enter kindergarten or elementary.”

COVID-19 affected how the state assessed if a school was moving in the right direction. The State Board of Education approved the plan back in 2020. Recently, a Senate committee is reviewing the plan, regarding transparency and efficiency in schools. 

“I think there are parents not paying attention and I’ve been on a school board, and I think it all comes back to does it really matter to the superintendent,” said Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina.

The latest addition to MSIP6 is the “continuous improvement” category. 

“Understand that success looks different for every child and not putting them on a certain pathway, but helping them find what it is and making sure that they have the ability to take the access to those opportunities,” said Vandeven. 

Under this topic, schools will be graded on an improvement plan to improve student outcomes, a self-study to reflect upon current practices and data, along with listening to stakeholders and using their feedback in improvement planning. 

Some members were concerned that with these new plans, some high-performing districts could see points deducted. 

“The scores going down for the school districts has a real potential to undo everything and create a lot of rash decisions to be made in only in this building, but with parents and folks across the state,” said Sen. Doug Beck, D-St. Louis. 

Another talking point during Monday’s hearing was the state’s shortage of teachers and the ability to pay. Even though lawmakers approved raising the minimum wage from $25,000 a year to $38,000, the legislation states it’s only for one year. 

“We made a decision to have more money for teachers but it’s not in such a fashion that everybody can do it,” said O’Laughlin. “Small schools need to be able to implement it over a two or three-year period of time and not just bang, that’s it because they have a budget they know they can meet.”

The State Board of Education’s Teacher Recruitment and Retention Blue Ribbon Commission will meet monthly until October to suggest steps and policy changes to help teacher recruitment and retention in the state. In August, the commission plans to hold a public hearing and open an online survey to hear from educators around the state. 

DESE previously said last fall that there were more than 3,000 positions in Missouri classrooms across the state that were either vacant or filled by someone not qualified. 

“We do need a sustainable method, you can’t plan on a one-year grant process,” said Vandeven. “It’s a great first step but we do need a sustainable way to pay our teachers annually.”

The committee plans to meet again next month to hear what needs to be done to increase transparency, accountability, and efficiency in schools across the state. The next meeting will include public testimony. 

To read the draft from DESE, click here. You can also take a survey on the MSIP6 on DESE’s website.