State to change how it accredits schools

KANSAS CITY (AP) — A proposal to revamp how Missouri accredits public schools has been stripped of several changes that angered education groups.

The Missouri State Board of Education voted Tuesday to publish the revised standards. Final approval is expected in December, but schools won’t be held accountable under the new rules until two years later.

A number of proposed changes initially raised concerns, including the addition of several new tests and the requirement that details be reported about how districts’ graduates fared in their pursuit of college degrees.

The earlier proposal proved so controversial that State Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro asked the State Board of Education in April to withdraw it. Then over the summer, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education put on a series of meetings to share information and collect suggestions.

“I think that the additional input provided that opportunity for reasonable people to discuss the issue and during that discussion, I believe that eventually the department agreed with the position that we had on several of those items,” said Roger Kurtz, the executive director of the Missouri Association of School Administrators. Members of Kurtz’s organization had voted this spring to ask the board to delay finalizing the changes until educators could voice their concerns.

Nicastro said in a news release that the new accreditation standards would allow the state to “raise the bar for academic performance across Missouri.”

The revamped proposal dropped several of the proposed new tests, including ones students would have taken upon completing world history, 11th grade English and their second year of algebra. The new proposal indicates that more science tests will be given to high school students, but it isn’t as specific as the earlier proposal, which called for end-of-course exams in physics and chemistry.

Remaining in the revamped proposal is a new end-of-high-school exam, which has generated concerns because some states use these types of tests to gauge whether students can graduate. While that’s not part of the accreditation discussion in Missouri, concerns persist.

Under the revamped version, accreditation reports won’t include data on 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. Although the initial proposal never called for remediation and college graduation rates to be considered for accreditation decisions, educators had feared that could change. Educators had said they don’t have control over students once they graduate and colleges have varying requirements for placing students in remedial courses.

Another change that is part of the latest proposal is that the state will make accreditation dependent on districts showing they don’t ignore instruction in physical education and fine arts. Details are still being worked out on the provision, which was added in response to concerns some arts and music teachers had expressed because the initial proposal didn’t offer districts points for such things as whether they offered fine arts classes or maintained certain staffing ratios.

The state also wants to add a new accreditation classification called “accredited with distinction.”

“We’re pleased the State Board of Education has taken the suggestions of the Regional Advisory Committees seriously and has incorporated many of those suggestions into the proposed accreditation standards,” said Brent Ghan, of the Missouri School Boards’ Association, in a written statement.

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