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Missouri Schools Struggle With New Evaluation System

Heather Hollingsworth, Associated Press
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – The St. Louis school system is at risk of regaining its recently shed “unaccredited” label under a tough, new evaluation system that promises to lead to an increase in the number of districts around Missouri rated as faltering, a newly released draft report shows.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education ran the report using data from the 2011-12 school year as part of its preparation for switching to the new standards this school year. They require higher test scores in some subjects, place a greater emphasis on graduation rates and require schools to track things like how many students succeed in higher-level courses rather than just how many enroll in them.

Districts continue making updates to the data in the report. The results won’t lead to accreditation changes but offer the first glimpse of how districts might fare when the first official batch of results using 2012-13 data are released later this year.

The state has said most districts won’t see their accreditation classification change until 2015, giving them three years to improve under the new system. The state board, however, retains the right to intervene if districts make big gains or losses during the three-year phase-in period.

The draft report shows the St. Louis district, which gained provisional accreditation in October, earning just 22.5 percent of the points possible. Under the new system, districts must earn 50 percent of overall points or face the risk of becoming unaccredited.

St. Louis Public Schools spokesman Patrick Wallace said the newly released draft data is “only for planning and comparison purposes” and stressed that the district did what was needed to regain accreditation under the old system.

The draft report also shows the state’s three currently unaccredited school systems remain in that range under the new system, with Kansas City earning a score of 19.6 percent, Normandy, 21.8 percent, and Riverview Gardens, 27.1 percent. The currently provisionally accredited Hickman Mills district in the Kansas City area is at risk of becoming unaccredited with a score of 42.9 percent.

Kansas City Superintendent R. Stephen Green said in a written statement that the district had been improving under the old system. He stressed the district has “mapped out a plan that will position the district to reach provisional accreditation this school year” even though “the bar is higher and the hill we must climb is steeper” under the new system.

On top of the five districts falling in the unaccredited range, another 31 districts fell in the provisionally accredited range, the draft report shows.

Under the old system, only about 20 of the state’s 520 districts fell in the unaccredited or provisionally accredited performance range. Because the state reviews several years of data before making an accreditation change, only three districts are officially deemed unaccredited and another 11 provisionally accredited.

Districts that are unaccredited can ultimately face a state takeover, while provisionally accredited districts are subject to extra monitoring.

The state’s system of accrediting schools predates the federal No Child Left Behind Education law, and the latest version is the fifth. It’s not uncommon when the state updates the evaluation system for early estimates to predict jumps in the number of districts falling in the unaccredited and provisionally accredited range. Ultimately, many of those districts are able to improve enough to avoid those categories, and the state plans to work with districts to ensure the same thing will happen this time.

“Districts typically have demonstrated that they have risen to the occasion and they have shown some great improvement,” said Margie Vandeven, an assistant commissioner for DESE.

Roger Kurtz, executive director of the Missouri Association of School Administrators, cautioned against reading too much into the draft report, noting that the data is still being finalized. He also noted that the new system stresses different things, with graduation rates, for instance, worth about three times more under the new system.

“If you’ve got a graduation rate issue, it is going to show up like a red light on this,” he said.

The suburban Kansas City district of Independence had a perfect score under the old system but the draft report showed it in the provisionally accredited range, albeit barely, under the new system. District spokeswoman Nancy Lewis said the district would be bumped up to the fully accredited range in the finalized report, noting her district’s graduation data was flawed in the draft report.

The draft report didn’t contain all bad news; Several of the state’s currently provisionally accredited districts Calhoun, Caruthersville, Gilliam, Gorin, Malta Bend, Spickard R-II, Swedeborg R-III were falling in the fully accredited range in the new system, the draft data showed.

“The way I explained that is it is like taking last week’s football games and re-scoring them with the same teams and the same players and instead of getting three points for an extra point you get four and instead of six for a touchdown you get five,” Kurtz said. “A lot of the games wouldn’t come out the same.”

The suburban Kansas City district of Independence had a perfect score under the old system, but the draft report showed it in the provisionally accredited range, albeit barely, under the new system. District spokeswoman Nancy Lewis said the district would be bumped up to the fully accredited range in the finalized report, noting her district’s graduation data was flawed in the draft report.

The draft report didn’t contain all bad news; Several of the state’s currently provisionally accredited districts Calhoun, Caruthersville, Gilliam, Gorin, Malta Bend, Spickard R-II, Swedeborg R-III were falling in the fully accredited range in the new system.

© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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