Unaccredited districts cite progress in latest test score results | St. Louis Public Radio

Unaccredited districts cite progress in latest test score results

Sep 29, 2016

Updated at 12:30 p.m. Sept. 30 with information on charters and standout districts — Superintendents of Missouri’s only two unaccredited school districts say the latest standardized test scores show their students are improving.

But state school officials caution that because the tests taken in the spring were from a different source from those taken the year before, year-to-year comparisons aren’t really valid, so there is no good way to truly gauge how much progress students have made.

Still, the superintendents in Normandy and Riverview Gardens are pleased.

“I’m always anxious for more, quicker,” said Normandy Superintendent Charles Pearson, “but we could see that we were moving. When we did our own deep dive, grade by grade and classroom by classroom, we certainly saw growth in the elementary and in some cases on the secondary level.”

The numbers released Thursday showed 32.9 percent of Normandy students scored either proficient or advanced in English on the spring MAP tests, 16 percent were in the top categories in math, 7.6 percent in science and 11.1 percent in social studies.

This year’s statewide scores showed 62.9 percent of students were in the top two categories in English, 48.6 percent in math, 52.1 percent in science and 63.3 percent in social studies.

Pearson said he was particularly gratified by the fact that growth occurred in areas where the district had put the most effort toward improvement. After viewing forward movement in reading, he said, the district plans to use the same strategy to boost scores in math.

Normandy Superintendent Charles Pearson speaks to students asking for changes to the district's suspension policy in May 2015.
Credit File photo | Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

“For our students,” Pearson said, “small group instruction is very effective for both literacy and math, so while we were doing small group in literacy, we have now started teaching math that same way. So we do anticipate that will make a big difference for us.”

In Riverview Gardens, Superintendent Scott Spurgeon has pointed to progress in recent years as justification for moving the district up to provisional accreditation.

This year, the MAP scores showed the district had 25 percent of its students in the top two categories in English, 14 percent in math, 14.4 percent in science and 44.4 percent in social studies. On this year’s report, he said:

“Our children have once again done a tremendous job. Our focus in this district, in the four years that I’ve been the superintendent has and will continue to be a focus on literacy and numeracy and we continue to do great things for children. We’ve continued to see our proficiency rates in reading continue every single year in the range of 15 to 20 percent per year more proficient readers.

To see how all the districts scored, go to the end of the article.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education deferred any recommendation for an accreditation upgrade until this fall’s MAP scores were available, as well as the annual state report card numbers (APR) that are set to be released in November.

Spurgeon hoped the new student test scores would add weight to his argument.

“It’s still going to be awhile before we’re going to see the draft APR,” he said.

“But I still feel optimistic that our performance scores are going to produce points that will at least give the state board the opportunity to consider us for a classification change which I’m optimistic is going to take place in December.”

Half of the 140 points on the APR come from student achievement, with the rest tallied from areas such as attendance, graduation rate and college and career readiness.

“When the final annual performance report comes out,” Spurgeon said, “you’re going to continue to see increases for our school district in the area of college and career readiness, in the area of college and career readiness, in the area of attendance, in the area of graduation rate.

“I’m very pleased with the performance of our high school. Now for three years in a row they have been the flagship that has continued to carry our district. And I could not be more proud of our high school students and our staff.”

This year's statewide scores showed 62.9 percent of students were in the top two categories in English, 48.6 percent in math, 52.1 percent in science and 63.3 percent in social studies.

The district’s accreditation classification should be clarified in December. Assistant education commissioner Chris Neale said that he expects the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to have enough valid information to make a recommendation to the state school board, which has the final say in the matter. But he wants to see the final numbers before he can say so for sure.

“Nothing would please me more than to be able to celebrate significant, concrete sustainable improvement in that district,” he said, “because we’ve all hoped for them to be able to improve and better serve the students in their district.

“We want to make sure we’re exactly right when we make that call.”

Other districts respond

After last year’s request for full accreditation status was deferred, St. Louis Public Schools needs to demonstrate continued improvement in its test scores and district report card in order get the nod for full accreditation from the state this year.

About 37 percent of students scored at least a proficient score in English, and about 26 percent did the same in Math, compared with about 63 percent statewide in English and about 49 percent statewide in Math.

Deputy Superintendent Cheryl VanNoy noted that the district’s scores in English, Math and Social Studies are all higher than last year’s results under the different test.

“We’re never completely happy unless we have all of our students at the proficient or advanced level, but we do see some things that we are proud of and we do see some things that we have a little bit of concern about,” VanNoy said. “There’s always room for improvement but I do feel like we’re making progress.”

Since St. Louis Public Schools are classed as 100 percent low-income, all students count in state’s so-called “super sub group” — the group the state highlights in effort to reduce the achievement gap among black and Latino students, as well as low-income students, students with disabilities and students learning English.

The state’s super sub group scored about 13 percent higher than SLPS in English and about 9 percent higher than the district in math.  

VanNoy, who is in charge of accountability and technology at SLPS, said without knowing this year’s district report card it’s difficult to know whether the scores will be enough to qualify for full accreditation.  

“We’re anxiously awaiting those types of results. I don’t really have an indication at this point, but we’re always optimistic,” VanNoy said.

St. Louis Public Schools has been either provisionally accredited or unaccredited since 2000.

In Jennings, where the state board upgraded the district to full accreditation last year following steady progress, new Superintendent Art McCoy praised continued movement in English and math.

McCoy replaced Tiffany Anderson as superintendent of the district when Anderson moved on to take the top job in Topeka, Kan. Asked how a new superintendent can keep momentum going, he replied:

“First, you start by celebrating the fact that as a district, we made it happen once. We celebrate that for about 10 seconds. Then you go back to work to say, we need to do it again and prove that it can be done again.

“These scores do that, by showing we have made progress.”

He said the district will keep a strong focus on data, to show where students are improving and where they need to keep making strides. McCoy said he wants to show that a minority district can maintain the excellence it has shown in recent years.

“I’m pretty pleased that we’re going in the right direction,” he said, “but we still have a long way to go to make sure that all kids are performing at a goal of at least 70 percent proficiency to 80 percent proficiency, which is my goal for the school district.”

In Ferguson-Florissant, Superintendent Joseph Davis completed his first years as superintendent in July. He expressed satisfaction at gains the district showed, particularly in math, but he said he wants to do more.

“We want all of our students to be advanced,” Davis said “That takes a lot of pushing, and making sure that students have the skill sets across the board. We’re going in the right direction, but we still have a way to go.”

He plans a greater focus on reading comprehension.

“Reading to me is the most important thing that we can do for children in assuring that they are prepared for learning,” Davis said. “What we have to do is make sure that all students are reading really well. We want all students to be reading on grade level by the end of third grade.”

Ferguson-Florissant's district report cards have hovered on the border between the provisional accreditation range and full accreditation range in recent years.

Standout districts

More than 80 percent of the students at Kirkwood, Clayton, Ladue, Lindbergh, Rockwood and Webster Groves scored at least a proficient on last spring’s English MAP tests.

St. Louis area school districts with high math scores include Clayton, Ladue, Lindbergh, Brentwood, Kirkwood and Rockwood. All six school districts had more than 70 percent of their students score at least a proficient in math.

Charter schools

Of the St. Louis charter schools still in operation this school year, LaSalle Charter School had the lowest scores in English and math, with 8.8 percent scoring at least a proficient in math and 24.2 percent scoring at least a proficient in English.

Preclarus Mastery Academy, Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls and Confluence Academies also had less than 20 percent of their students receive at least a proficient score in math.

Of the charter schools that took science MAP tests Confluence had the fewest students with a proficient or advanced score at 9.2 percent. Preclarus Mastery, LaSalle, Carondelet Leadership Academy, St. Louis Language Immersion and South City Prep also had less than 20 percent of their students score at least a proficient in Science.

Charter schools with standout MAP scores this year include City Garden Montessori, North Side Community School and Gateway Science Academy. All three schools had more students in the proficient or advanced categories in English than the statewide average of 63 percent. North Side and Gateway Science both also had higher math scores than the statewide average of 49 percent.

Better Learning Communities Academy and Jamaa Learning Center closed at the end of last school year.

Changes in standards and tests

The Missouri legislature forced changes in recent years in both the standards that guide school districts and the tests that measure how well students are doing. Because of those shifts, officials at DESE say that comparisons of any one district’s performance on the MAP test from this year to last year aren’t strictly valid.

Districts may be compared with each other or to the statewide average in any particular year.

And measures of the achievement gap – how a district did overall compared to students who are black, Hispanic, come from low-income families, have disabilities, or are learning English – are also valid in any particular year.

This year, statewide, that so-called super subgroup had this percentage of students in the top two categories: English 46.7 percent, math 32 percent, science 42.6 percent, an social studies 48.4 percent.

Beyond that, Neale said, comparisons remain inexact.

“We can talk about three-year averages to generally understand whether or not a school is headed up or down or stable,” he said. “We can do some statistical equating that gives us a little sense about whether particular students are gaining faster than we might have predicted.

“But at the same time, we try to hold those conclusions in balance with a bit of caution, because we know the assessments have changed over time.”

This year, the standards remained the same, but tests came from a different source. Soon, the newly adopted Missouri-developed standards that took effect this year will be the basis of the tests, so comparability will be problematic again.

“We have worked very hard to make them as similar as possible,” Neale said of the changing situation, “but you would be misleading yourself to say these are comparable sets of outcomes or comparable assessments that can be compared.”

When the new standards and the new tests are finally aligned, he added, the comparative picture should be clearer.

“If the Missouri standards are adequate and up to date,” Neale said, “and we believe they will be for some long period of time, and we're able to hold those assessments stable, then we'll be able to make much better comparisons than we're able to now.”

But for now, the only comparisons that state officials consider to be valid are among districts, or from a district to the statewide average, for any particular year.

“That’s the fairly frustrating situation we find ourselves in,” Neale acknowledged.

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