School accreditation changes could be on hold

KANSAS CITY (AP) — A top Missouri education official says she will recommend the State Board of Education withdraw a proposal to make sweeping changes in how the state accredits its public schools to allow more time to build support for it.

State Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said there appears to be a lack of understanding about the proposal and more time is needed to meet with educators, parents and community leaders to see what changes may be needed to gain support.

The proposal includes folding in new statewide tests as they become available and reporting on how districts’ graduates fare in their pursuit of college degrees. Districts also would be reviewed annually instead of once every five years and would report a host of new details on everything from their early childhood programs to the percentage of students completing federal financial aid forms.

“We know that the proposed standards might not be perfect, but they do offer a sound proposal that has the interests of nearly 1 million students and their futures in mind,” Nicastro said in a news release sent Thursday night.

The State Board of Education gave initial approval to the plan last month, but then the Missouri Association of School Administrators voted to ask the board to delay finalizing the changes until educators could voice their concerns.

The Board of Education had been set to make a final decision in May. If the board agrees to withdraw the proposal when it meets Wednesday, it wouldn’t consider the issue again until the fall.

“I will give the commissioner credit for understanding there was discontent out there and taking action,” Roger Kurtz, the administrators association’s executive director, said Friday.

Some art and music teachers feared the proposed accreditation standards would put their programs at risk. That’s because districts would no longer get points for such things as whether they offered those classes. But the state has stressed the points districts earn for providing those classes haven’t been used to make accreditation decisions since 2006 anyway.

Nicastro has vowed to look into their concerns.

Also generating concerns were proposed new tests, particularly end-of-high-school exams and end-of-course exams in subjects such as physics and chemistry. Some states use end-of-high-school exams to gauge whether students can graduate. While that’s not part of the accreditation discussion in Missouri, teachers are spooked anyway. Educators also say the state is in effect dictating that students take physics and chemistry, which traditionally haven’t been required courses.

Under the changes, the state also would monitor the percentage of districts’ graduates taking remedial coursework in college and how many of them earn either an associate’s degree within three years or a bachelor’s degree within six years. Previously, districts just had to document how many students were enrolled in college within six months of graduation. The remediation and college graduation rates will not be considered for accreditation decisions under the proposed changes, but educators fear that could change.

Educators said they don’t have control over students once they graduate and colleges have varying requirements for placing students in remedial courses. Missouri community colleges are working to change that and have set a standard for placing students in remedial courses by this fall. But the four-year intuitions don’t have a consistent standard.

State officials agree that the inconsistency is an issue, and they are looking at working with institutions of higher education to develop consistent standards for what constitutes college readiness.

“What we are going to do is recommend to the board: ’Let’s take it off the table and do more work in the field and get input on their concerns and let’s address those and let’s bring it back as soon as we possibly can because our kids can’t wait,’” education department spokeswoman Michele Clark said.

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