Rik W. Hafer

How many times has someone said “just do the math?” Unfortunately, too many children in Missouri are likely to respond with “I can’t.”

            On August 10, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released the MAP scores for 2015. Direct comparisons between this year’s results and those from previous years are problematic, because in the interim the state changed its standards. This makes it difficult to assess how much any particular school or district has improved student learning over time. If that’s not enough, the 2015 test results are based on Common Core, adding another layer of difficulty. Despite the challenges in making comparisons over time, we can take a snapshot of student performance, and that snapshot isn’t pretty.

            It turns out that elementary and middle school students did comparatively well in language arts and social studies. In both cases, over 60 percent of the test-takers had passing scores. However, the outcome was not as rosy when in math and science. Fewer than half of students achieved proficiency in math. For science, the one area where the standards remained unchanged from 2014, just under half of students (49 percent) achieved proficiency in 2015, a result little changed from last year.

            The overall results point out a continuing problem: poor scores in math and science. While some schools undoubtedly are producing students who are doing quite well, the fact is that even with changing standards, Missouri’s math and science scores have been low for some time. This is not a good omen for the future of Missouri’s economy. Mountains of economic research (see my essay, “Are Education and Economic Growth Related?”) show that a population’s math ability is directly related to its economic success. That is to say, countries and states in which the residents have more advanced math skills also tend to have higher levels of income and output per person.

Missouri’s future prosperity depends on the ability of our students to compete for high-quality, well-paying jobs. Those jobs will require math and science skills that our schools currently aren’t providing.

About the Author

Rik Hafer
Research Fellow

Rik Hafer is a Show-Me Institute research fellow and a professor of economics and the Director of the Center for Economics and the Environment at Lindenwood University in Saint Charles, Missouri.