Group touts letter grades for Missouri schools

Monday, January 21, 2013 | 2:12 p.m. CST; updated 5:40 p.m. CST, Monday, January 21, 2013

CAPE GIRARDEAU — A Missouri nonprofit group would like to see the state's schools rated on an individual basis — instead of by entire districts — and have a letter grade attached to each school's performance.

The Children's Education Alliance of Missouri, based in St. Louis, seeks to implement a ratings system for every public school in the state in addition to ratings given to school districts.

"There should be ratings assigned to individual schools, so that parents will know how the school they send their kids to is performing," said Kate Casas, state director of the alliance.

As part of their annual accreditation process, public school districts across the state supply the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education with information that is used to evaluate a district's adherence to state standards. Based on that, a district receives a rating of "accredited," ''provisionally accredited" or "unaccredited."

According to Casas, just because a district has received accredited status doesn't mean there aren't problems within that district's schools.

"Many people believe their school district is fine if it receives an accredited rating," she said. "But when a top-rated district has a school where only 25 percent of its students are reading on grade level, district ratings don't mean much."

The alliance advocates an understandable rating system. The proposed "A-F School Rating System" would be based on information already being collected by the Education Department, such as attendance, graduation rates and test scores. A top-rated school would receive an "A," a middle-performing school would receive a "C'' and an underperforming school would receive an "F."

"It's simply a matter of reporting how individual schools in Missouri are performing," Casas said. "It's also about transparency and accountability."

Included with the rating would be a report from the Education Department that would provide information about student performance and growth. The high school report cards would give information about graduation rates and college-readiness levels.

Casas said the proposed rating system has been adopted by 12 states, and she is aware implementing the system in Missouri could take time.

"We're working with DESE about making the change, and we're also talking to legislators about getting the system codified into law. It could take awhile, but CEAM will be in this for as long as it takes," she said.

Sarah Potter, communications coordinator for the Education Department, said she was familiar with the alliance's proposal but said the department has no plans to implement it at this time.

"We'll need to study this more," she said.

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