The St. Joseph School District increased its Missouri Assessment Program proficiency scores over the last 10 years. However, the local scores haven’t increased at the same rate as the state averages.

There were 32.4 percent of district students in the Proficient and Advanced in communication arts in 2002. The state average, covering the 512 school districts in Missouri, was 30.7 for Proficient and Advanced.

For math in 2002, the district’s Proficient and Advanced rate was 23.0 percent. For the state the same year, the percentage was 21.1 percent.

Fast forward to 2012, and the district’s Proficient and Advanced percentage in communication arts was 51.3 percent, with 50.9 percent in mathematics. The Advanced and Proficient percentage at the state level for communications arts was 55.0 percent. In mathematics, it was 54.9 percent.

These percentages no doubt raise questions about the effectiveness of the district. Considering that the state average is weighted down by under-performing districts like Kansas City and Pemiscot County, many might reason the local district percentages should be much higher.

But test scores and percentages don’t tell the whole story. Many variables, like free and reduced lunch counts and an influx of Limited English Proficient (LEP) students, can affect those percentages, said Cheri Patterson, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

“Two things I would want to point out,” she said. “One is that we are kissing the state average. But when you come down to free and reduced lunch counts, we are not kissing the state average. We’re well above it.”

Higher than

the bootheel

The percentage of local students qualifying for free and reduced lunches in 2012 was 63.0 percent. The state percentage of free and reduced lunches for 2012 was 49.5 percent.

That 63.0 percent free and reduced count is higher than that of the Pemiscot Co-R-III School District, in the impoverished bootheel region of the state. Pemiscot has a free and reduced lunch rate of 44.6 in 2012, according to state statistics.

The percentage of those living below the poverty level in Buchanan County is 14.9 percent, compared to 28.2 percent in Pemiscot, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“I’m telling you, when you look at that free and reduced trend, our teachers are doing one heck of a job. They’re not only keeping up, they are surpassing,” Ms. Patterson said.

The influx of LEP students in the district also affects the proficiency numbers, Ms. Patterson added. In 2002, the district only had 52 LEP students. In 2012, the number was 424.

Children from Mexico, Burma and other countries are expected to be proficient enough to take the MAP test one year after being in the school district. But research says it takes five years for a person to become fluent in the English language, Ms. Patterson noted.

“Before they can count in these scores, they’ve got to get out of below basic, into basic, then to proficient, before they even move these numbers at all,” Ms. Patterson said. “It’s hard with those kids. They literally can’t say ‘I need to go to the bathroom,’ yet they’re supposed to take this test.”

But that’s not saying that all children can’t learn, she added.


The term “Proficient and Advanced” also is misunderstood. Those students deemed Proficient and Advanced are the ones with A and B grades. The C students don’t make the cut. So although a C is not a failing grade, it isn’t considered Proficient and Advanced.

“When we use these numbers, I think they think everybody else is failing. But that’s not true,” she said.

State Rep. Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, was an educator in Northwest Missouri for a number of years. He agreed that you can’t measure a district by test scores alone; there are too many variables.

“Test scores by themselves are really hard to make deductions from,” he said, adding that schools are under a lot of financial stress due to state and other funding cuts, which can hamper their effectiveness.

“Our schools are under a lot of pressure right now, and I think we need to do everything we can to uplift them, to support them and encourage them,” he said.

Alonzo Weston can be reached

at Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWeston.

(4) comments


This is sad. The test scores would likely be higher if the teachers didn't have to spend so much time helping the kids who don't speak English or the kids who should have been held back a grade but weren't because of No Child Left Behind. Get rid of the non English speakers (or force them to learn English before they jump the boarder) and hold the stupid kids back and there won't be a problem.


1. Education is not a competition. The people who are not entirely fluent in English are the most in need of education, obviously.

2. You should probably use the right homonyms when insulting the English skills of any given group. "Jumping the boarder" - it is sad because it could not be a typo, how embarrassing.


No Child Left Behind has been generally misunderstood, and our school administration's explanations of it have certainly not helped. NCLB did nothing to encourage kids being pushed up through the grades- if anything, it encouraged the opposite.

This is one of Alonzo's better articles on district performance. Two things were stated very well- teachers are doing one heck of a job. It's district policies set at a much higher level that are falling short. And Rep. Thompson is absolutely correct- you can't measure a district by test scores alone; there are too many variables. The problem is that our district has strived to not measure our district by test scores at all- a problem that hopefully the Board will deal with in their choice of our next superintendent.


Its time to take pride in our community and make our schools, our children and the future of our community our highest priority! Our teachers labor tirelessly to do exactly that every single day. Its time we support our teachers with modern facilities throughout the SJSD!

It’s a vicious cycle. We failed to invest in modern school facilities for 40 yrs and wondered why our business climate suffered and we lost businesses to other communities.

We still send the poorest kids in the SJSD to the worst facilities then scratch our heads and wonder why they struggle.

School performance isn't only about facilities - but our failure to make adequate investments in facilities certainly has played a significant role in the increase in students in the free & reduced lunch program – which is a major driver of the performance issue – that can’t be denied!

Think facilities don't matter? How many of the schools in MO had modern HV/AC systems in 2002 vs 2012? How many schools had classrooms that were of adequate size for the number of students in 2002 vs 2012? What other investments in facilities did other districts in MO make that allowed them to attract business w/good paying jobs to their communities while St. Joe missed out because it failed to invest in its own schools, children and future?

1 short year ago, the community came together under PACT for SJSD and jointly designed a Facilities Master Plan. It’s up to each of us to make certain it gets implemented within the next 10 yrs, as the community said it wanted. We must make certain the SJSD makes the necessary investments we all want in facilities if we want our community to move forward.

The SJSD Board is already saying they will ignore the community's plan and wait 8-10 yrs before seeking funding to make progress on the Facilities Master Plan! We've seen how that played out over the last 40 yrs - we can't afford to wait another 10 yrs!

The key missing metric from this article is the % Free & Reduced Lunches in 2002. Don't know if that is available, but would be interesting to know.

Thanks for a nice article, Alonzo!

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