ST. LOUIS — Nearly one-third of the state’s 524 school districts have not met federal education standards, and state educators warn the list could grow as benchmarks become tougher.
Among the districts that learned Monday they’ve fallen short of the academic goals established under the federal No Child Left Behind Act are Hazelwood, Fort Zumwalt, Francis Howell and Parkway. Last year, those St. Louis-area districts claimed more National Merit Scholars than any other district in the state.
“This is indicative of the bigger picture and demonstrates why everyone in public education has to drill deeper to find students who are not successful and to find out why they are not successful,” Parkway district spokesman Paul Tandy told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Most of the 167 districts on the “improvement list” were cited because specific groups of students, such as those needing special education and those learning English as a second language, fell short on state tests, Assistant State Education Commissioner Stan Johnson said.
Missouri School Boards Association spokesman Brent Ghan said it is misleading to characterize an entire district as needing improvement when only segments of it are lacking.
But the idea behind No Child Left Behind is that if one group of students falls short academically, the whole school falls short.
The federal law requires that by 2014, all students be proficient in reading and math. States must set goals each year for the percentage of students that must score proficient on state tests, gradually increasing to 100 percent.
Missouri, for example, set a goal of 18.4 percent of students scoring proficient on the Missouri Assessment Program test in communication arts in 2002. By this spring, more than half of students must hit that mark.
Schools and districts that fail to make such annual progress in academics and also miss targets for attendance and graduation rates for two consecutive years are added to the improvement list.
Johnson predicted the rising expectations each year will cause more and more school districts to land on the improvement list.
Districts on the list must upgrade school improvement plans and notify parents of the federal designation.
Johnson said he doesn’t expect the classification of these districts to change when the state releases this year’s Missouri Assessment Program scores on Friday.
Johnson cited a recent National Center for Education Statistics report that found Missouri students proficient in math, reading, science and writing as evidence that the state is holding its own academically.
“Our standards are pretty tough,” he said. “Proficiency in Missouri means proficiency.”