A new rating system for Missouri’s school districts will intensify pressure on low-performing school districts to improve, while exposing even the best schools to new scrutiny from parents and the public.
For struggling schools, the changes — which begin rolling out this summer — could mean more districts statewide won’t meet minimum standards for state accreditation. Among them is the St. Louis Public Schools, which only recently improved its standing under the current system.
For high-performing districts, the new system creates greater distinctions.
Gone will be a 14-point scale that allowed several suburban school districts in the St. Louis region to boast perfect scores on the state standards. In its place is a more rigorous scale that would lead to far fewer perfect scores.
For example, Mehlville, Parkway, Pattonville and Rockwood had perfect scores under the old rating, but under the new scale would score 97.9, 98.2, 87.5 and 96.8 percent, respectively, based on recent performance data.
“With that wider scale, it gives districts more information about where they need to improve, and also gives parents a better idea of how their schools are performing,” said Sarah Potter, spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. “That definitely is one of the goals.”
A HIGHER BAR
The department plugged three years of data into a new system to give districts an idea of how they might fare — but officials stressed the report is strictly informational.
The new system will be used during the state’s annual look at district performance this summer, and ultimately will be used to determine accreditation. But most districts will not see a change in their classification until 2015, when the state has three years of data under the new standards.
St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams said that the district already is working on the challenges of the new criteria.
In October, the Missouri Board of Education voted to upgrade the district to provisional accreditation after progress in the district’s finances, operations and academics. For the five years prior, the district had been unaccredited.
The new standards, if imposed today, would return city schools to unaccredited. But Adams said the district will work hard to improve its standing before the standards are in place.
“I’m really, really hopeful that we’ll be in a better position,” Adams said.
Normandy, which most recently lost accreditation, Riverview Gardens and Kansas City would continue to be classified as unaccredited under the new ratings system, if enacted today.
Meanwhile, the standards would place 31 school districts in the provisional accreditation range, including Ferguson-Florissant and Ritenour. That would be an increase from 11 of 520 school districts statewide that currently have that classification.
The state does not give charter schools official accreditation classifications, but some with three years or more of data were included in the preliminary report to give their sponsors and boards more information about their performance — which varied greatly from school to school.
St. Louis Charter School, for example, scored 80 percent, while the Confluence schools as a group earned 25.4 percent. City Garden Montessori had 100 percent.
A NEW CHALLENGE
Under the previous system, more than 80 percent of districts met at least 13 out of 14 standards for K-12 districts. But only 55 percent of Missouri’s students were considered proficient on state tests for reading and math last year.
The state’s education department has updated its measures for school districts every five years or so since first beginning the system decades ago. In 2011, the Missouri Board of Education adopted the standards, which look at academic achievement, whether students leave ready for college or careers, attendance and graduation rates.
State administrators based the standards on what it would take for Missouri to rank among the top 10 states for student achievement by 2020.
“If we maintain that level of continuous improvement, we’ll meet our goal,” said Margie Vandeven, assistant commissioner in the state’s office of quality schools.
One example of the change: a different way to calculate attendance rate. State officials previously scored schools on their overall attendance rate, or the percentage of kids in school daily. Now, the state looks at what percentage of students are in school 90 percent of the time to focus on the kids who are missing the most school.
The use of Advanced Placement course data also has changed — districts now earn points for how many students pass the tests for the college-level courses, rather than districts earning points just for offering them.
The new system grades school districts based on a percentage earned of 150 possible points. Districts with 70 percent and higher are accredited. Districts scoring less than 50 percent are considered unaccredited, and those falling into between would have provisional accreditation.
For a district to be “accredited with distinction,” it must earn 90 percent or greater of the points available, as well as some other criteria that has not yet been determined.
“We’re using the data to get better, I think that’s the most important thing,” said Tim Pecoraro, an assistant superintendent in Pattonville. “We’re confident we’re going to be at that 90 percent range or better.”
Pecoraro and other administrators say the new system helps districts to focus on individual students and their achievement, making sure they leave the district college or career ready, rather than the overall results for school.
Art McCoy, superintendent of the Ferguson-Florissant School District, said that at first, many districts had to “embrace the shock” of the new and more rigorous standards and their impact. But he supports raising the bar, and believes his district can keep its accreditation.
“We have to stretch harder,” he said.