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St. Louis schools closer to partial accreditation

Tuesday, August 14, 2012 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — St. Louis Public Schools could be on track to regain partial accreditation as early as next year, while the also unaccredited Kansas City and Riverview Gardens districts still have a ways to go, according to state data released Tuesday.

The state is considering the accreditation of six other districts next month and the data puts two — Normandy in the St. Louis area and Hickman Mills in the Kansas City area — at risk of a possible downgrade.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's Annual Performance Reports show how many academic performance standards districts have met in categories including strong test scores, graduation rates and attendance. The results are used to help make accreditation decisions. Districts that are unaccredited can ultimately face a state takeover, while provisionally accredited districts are subject to extra monitoring.

The St. Louis district went from meeting three of 14 performance standards in 2009 to six last year and seven this year. One of the performance standards the district met was tied to test scores. To achieve provisional accreditation, the district needs to meet at least six performance standards, and the state wants the district to meet that goal for three years.

"We are thrilled to see their steady improvement," Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said in a news conference Friday in advance of the scores' release. "What we've said from the beginning is we are looking for sustained improvement over time. For us that has generally been at least three years of data. We will be looking for continuous improvement next year."

The effort will be complicated by the fact that the state is moving this year to a tougher version of its evaluation system. The new version will require higher test scores in some subjects. Also, schools will have to track such things as how many students succeed in higher-level courses rather than just how many enroll in them.

"It is going to be very complicated," St. Louis Public Schools spokesman Patrick Wallace said. "It comes back to, as a district we do everything we can do to educate the kids. From a school system standpoint, after that it's up to the department to look at all the school districts in the state and make determinations about accreditation."

Gaining provisional accreditation would mean the district would no longer be subject to a state law requiring unaccredited districts to pay tuition and transportation to send students living within their boundaries to accredited schools elsewhere.

The law has prompted multiple lawsuits. Schools claim the law is unworkable and parents said their children deserve a quality education. So far, students in unaccredited districts are not being allowed to use the law to transfer while the litigation continues.

The state's other two unaccredited districts — Kansas City Public Schools and the Riverview Gardens district in the St. Louis area — made some improvement after meeting only three of 14 performance standards last year. Kansas City met five standards this year, while Riverview Gardens met four.

A special board is running Riverview Gardens, which lost its accreditation in 2007. The Kansas City district has until June 2014 to regain accreditation, be taken over by the state or be dissolved.

The new data also shows that the Normandy School District is at risk of becoming the state's fourth unaccredited district during a state Board of Education meeting next month in St. Louis. The district earned just five of 14 performance standards. During the September meeting, the board also will consider the Hickman Mills district, which risks dropping to provisionally accredited after meeting only seven of 14 performance standards.

Nicastro said the state hasn't decided what action it will recommend the board takes. But Hickman Mills spokesman John Baccala said the district already was anticipating a downgrade.

"We know we need to do better, and we will," Baccala said.

Stanton Lawrence, superintendent of the Normandy district, said Monday he didn't think his district would lose accreditation. He said the district has shown improvement in recent test scores and has a "very well thought out and comprehensive plan" to address problems. "And we expect that we're going to show more substantial movement this year."

He noted that the district, which has about 4,000 students, absorbed an additional 350 students from the Wellston district, which the state closed in 2010.

"But I don't think the state has been particularly sensitive to that," he said.

This year marks another notable transition. Since the state was granted a waiver in June from the No Child Left Behind federal education law, the Annual Performance Reports will be the sole system for monitoring schools for state as well as federal purposes. Schools and districts no longer will have to make "adequate yearly progress" toward having 100 percent of their students fare well on state tests by 2014.


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