Marshall schools fare well in PEER evaluation against group and state averages

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Editor's note: This is the fourth in a four-part series looking at how area schools rated in the annual PEER report issued by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the University of Missouri. The series concludes with Marshall, the largest of Saline County's K-12 districts.

When looking at indicators in the Public Education Evaluation Report for Marshall, the district fares well in comparison to its group and state averages.

The district is placed in PEER Group 10c which is slightly above the state averages in both the number of students eligible for free and reduced lunches and per-pupil expenditures. Marshall's listed enrollment of 2,391 falls near the middle of the group, which includes Houston, Trenton, School of the Osage, Knob Noster, Reeds Spring, Moberly, Potosi, University City and Waynesville.

MAP scores at state levels

Under the provisions of the Missouri Assessment Program, schools strive to have their students score in the top two quintiles of a grading system. In Marshall, the percentage of students falling into these ranges often mirrors or surpasses the state average.

Marshall Superintendent of Schools Joe Aull said district officials knew not all local students would be in the top levels immediately, but scores have been improving steadily.

"We're happy with the progress we've made," Aull said. "We tell our staff we want to do better each year."

Unfortunately, reflecting the state averages also means the Marshall district suffers a common problem seen in schools across the state: the older the students taking the test, the lower the scores they achieve. Aull said part of the problem is that older students don't take the test as seriously as their younger peers.

The MAP test also becomes harder at the upper levels. While students in high school grades still do well on the test's multiple choice and short-answer portions, the long-answer portion, known as a performance event, causes problems for some.

"The performance events at the high school level become much more complex," Aull said.

The district is looking at several incentives to promote higher scores among its older students, Aull said. He said the possibility of linking MAP scores to a student's grades or graduation requirements has been discussed at the state level.

Other factors mixed

In addition to test scores, PEER looks at a number of other factors which reflect school performance. Marshall saw improvement in some of these areas, but scored low by comparison to its group in others.

Marshall was one of several schools in its group to see improvements in its dropout rate between 2001 and 2002. The district improved from a dropout rate of 8.6 percent to 4.8 percent and saw its graduation rate jump from 75.1 percent to 81.9 percent. Aull said the 2001 dropout rate was a spike created in part by cutbacks at local industries and increased student mobility in Marshall that year. The district strives to keep its dropout rate under 3 percent, he said.

"We don't want to lose any kids, but we know we're not going to keep them all," Aull said.

Despite progress made in its dropout and graduation rates, the district had the lowest postsecondary education rate of its group. Marshall's rate of 42.9 percent was 17 percent lower than the group average and 7 percent lower than Potosi, the school in the group with the second-lowest postsecondary education rate.

Aull noted that in the four years prior to 2001, the district's college placement had been no lower than 57 percent and had been over 60 percent in two years. He said it was hoped that a drop to 46.3 in 2001 would be an isolated event, but that did not come to pass.

"To have it two years in a row is a trend and it's probably something we need to study," Aull said. "We don't have an answer for that right now."

On a positive note, the report also shows that Marshall led its group in attendance with a rate of 95.3 percent. Aull attributed the high attendance to not only students, but also parents who recognize the value being in class has on education.

"We're tickled to death about that," he said. "Our attendance has been good at all three levels."

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