Category Archives: Education

Taxpayers Deserve Answers from DESE on Testing Accountability Software

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s confusing positions on accountability software to detect and deter teacher cheating on standardized tests continues. 

Just over a month ago, the Post-Dispatch started a series of articles on standardized test cheating in Missouri and elsewhere. The lead article pointed out that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education failed to purchase software which can detect test result anomalies despite the fact that, according to DESE, the software would only cost $45,000. 

I filed a bill in response that would require DESE to buy the software. The reasons are simple. If standardized tests are intended to give an accurate measure of student achievement, Missouri taxpayers deserve accountability measures to ensure the system isn’t being gamed. 

To my surprise, DESE claimed my bill would cost over $250k. Undeterred, I asked about the discrepancy and was told that the cost of the software was $45k when limited to grades three through eight. 

Fast-forward to this week – I attached an amendment to a state contracting bill which would require DESE to purchase the software – but only for grades three through eight. The Department had previously told both the Post-Dispatch and my committee that such software cost $45k. My amendment passed on to the bill with bi-partisan support – and the bill is then assigned to Fiscal Review. Much to my surprise, the bill came back from fiscal review with the same $250k+ fiscal note.

To make matters worse, I was informed after passage of my amendment that DESE may have lapsed $141,375 in funding for accountability testing from last year’s budget. That means the Department was appropriated $141,375 more than it actually spent – which, if true, eviscerates the argument that they didn’t and don’t have the money to buy the software. 

In response to these inconsistencies, I’ve sent the attached letter and request for production of documents to the Department. See DESE – RQFPD. What started as a simple bill to move the Department to do something which I believe the vast majority of Missouri taxpayers believe it should do anyway has turned into something bigger. I do not understand how the responses to inquiries can be so inconsistent and so will investigate further. The lady doth protest too much methinks. 

Post-Dispatch Reports on School Test Fraud Prevention Bill

The Post-Dispatch reports on my bill to detect and deter cheating on standardized tests.

Standardized Test Accountability Bill Has No Opposition

I was pleased Monday to learn that there’s no opposition to HB 1986, my effort to bring greater accountability to standardized testing in Missouri. This bill would require DESE to purchase relatively inexpensive software that flags anomalous test results. The Department and local school districts could then use that information to detect potential situations where teachers have helped students cheat on standardized tests.

To be clear, I do not believe cheating to be widespread. But, as reported by the Post-Dispatch, it has happened in at least a few places.

Given the relatively low cost of software to detect problems, I think it’s an easy decision to require DESE to make investments to ensure the reliability of our statewide assessment tests. The Committee will exec on the bill soon. But, given that its late in session, the bill’s best chance will be as an amendment to another bill. We’ll be looking for a good landing spot.

Erasing Anti-Catholic Bigotry from the Missouri Constitution

Today in the House Education Committee, we heard Rep. Shane Schoeller’s HJR 70, which would amend the Blaine Amendment to remove the provisions placed into the Missouri Constitution in a fervor of anti-Catholic bigotry in the late 18th century.

The cartoon below was published in Harper’s Weekly in 1875 – and shows the spirit of the times.

The Anti-Catholic Blaine Amendment