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Missouri School Board Wonders How To Help Provisionally Accredited Districts

Missouri State Board of Education President Charlie Shields, at a meeting earlier this year, was among several board members at Tuesday's meeting who questioned whether provisionally accredited districts should be reviewed and measured differently.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri State Board of Education President Charlie Shields, shown at a meeting earlier this year, was among several board members at Tuesday's meeting who questioned whether provisionally accredited districts should be reviewed and measured differently.

Only nine of Missouri’s 518 public school districts lack full accreditation from the State Board of Education. But some of those districts have been there year after year, struggling to boost their annual performance metrics high enough to prompt state school board members to bump them up to full accreditation. 

The state board accepted the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s recommendation to leave all school districts where they are at its monthly meeting Tuesday in Jefferson City. That keeps 509 districts at full accreditation and nine provisionally accredited. No school district is currently unaccredited.

“We did not find any reason to recommend a lowered classification in any of the accredited districts,” Assistant Education Commissioner Chris Neale told the board. “Similarly, we did not find a reason in the provisional district such a shift in any of the areas that would recommend an increased accreditation level.”

The decision dashed hopes of leaders in some of those provisionally accredited districts who thought they’d improved enough to earn the board’s gold star. Kansas City Public Schools and Riverview Gardens, in north St. Louis County, have been on the bubble the past few school years.

The provisionally accredited districts in Missouri are:

  • Clarkton
  • Gilman City
  • Hayti
  • Hickman Mills
  • Kansas City
  • Middle Grove
  • Naylor 
  • Normandy
  • Riverview Gardens

Accreditation status is based largely on a district’s Annual Performance Report score that the state education department, known as DESE, tabulates every year based on metrics including academic performance, graduation and attendance. The state board can consider qualitative measures in its decision to change accreditation and typically doesn’t make a reclassification based on a single year’s data.

Complicating districts’ efforts to move up the ladder, DESE did not calculate an APR score for every district for the first time this fall. Instead, the department issued graphic representations meant to focus on growth rather than district-to-district comparisons.

Schools can still request a numerical calculation, which a dozen did. Of the nine provisionally accredited districts, only Kansas City and Hickman Mills had their score figured. Scores dropped for KCPS to 65.4% of 140 possible points, down from 82.9% of 120 available points last year. Hickman Mills had an APR of 60.8%. Seventy percent is the threshold for fully accredited range.

Riverview Gardens School officials thought the district had done enough last year and appealed to the board over the summer to be moved up. The request was denied. 

Kansas City Public Schools earned its highest score on the Annual Performance Report for the 2017-18 school year, boosting optimism of a return to full accreditation, not long after St. Louis Public Schools regained that distinction. 

Those districts, along with others including Hickman Mills near Kansas City and Normandy outside St. Louis, have struggled to match state averages in student proficiency, graduation and attendance. They’ve shown strong growth, however, and have strengthened the finances and leadership, also key factors in accreditation.

Students listen to a book reading during a giveaway event at Koch Elementary School in Riverview Gardens School District on March 2, 2017.
File Photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

"We recognize that accreditation is an imperfect accountability standard that ignores key factors, including poverty, crime, funding and mobility,” Riverview Gardens spokesman Anthony Kiekow said in a statement. “The aforementioned factors have a drastic impact on teaching and learning in our district. Our students and teachers are asked to do more with less each year.”

State board members did have a lengthy conversation about how factors such as poverty play into a district’s ability to meet expectations.

“What action do we take as a department to help them get out of that?” state board member Peter Herschend asked. “They’ve been there a long time. How are we helping them get out from under? It’s a tough one, I realize.”

More intervention and repercussions are triggered when a district becomes unaccredited, which was the case for Normandy and Riverview Gardens a decade ago. The harshest is allowing students to transfer to a higher-performing district at the financial burden of the unaccredited one. 

The board has replaced the local school boards in Normandy and Riverview Gardens, which Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven said has helped. But she said more “extreme measures,” such as replacing teachers in Normandy, did not. 

“The law says we have to intervene in an unaccredited district, I don’t believe there’s anything to keep us from intervening or offering intervention and assistance to the provisionally accredited or even those accredited districts who are down close on the bubble,” said board Vice President Vic Lenz.

“This is something we need to do as much as we can to help those districts before they get to the point of unaccredited or provisionally accredited,” Lenz said.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

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