Accreditation issues likely to touch many districts

Four Jefferson City schools don't make the full grade

As the General Assembly and the Missouri Board of Education grapple with ways to address school transfer and accreditation problems facing urban districts, it is becoming more clear that other public schools — such as Jefferson City’s — will not remain immune from state policymakers’ proposed solutions.

On Tuesday, education officials unveiled a plan that could establish performance contracts between provisionally accredited districts and the state board.

Some experts feel all the changes might have an impact for accredited districts, too.

Jefferson City is accredited and not in danger of losing that status. But it also has four schools that if evaluated on their own — which is something lawmakers are mulling —would fall into the state’s “provisionally accredited” category. Districts are considered provisionally accredited if they earn fewer than 70 percent of the points on their annual performance reports.

The four Jefferson City schools with scores in the 50s and 60s are: Lewis and Clark Middle School, Thomas Jefferson Middle School, East Elementary School and Callaway Hills Elementary School.

“I think it will heighten the awareness of issues in those buildings,” said Roger Kurtz, executive director of the Missouri Association of School Administrators.

The state plan unveiled Tuesday would retain the current accreditation classifications, but overlay a five-tier system with a sliding scale of state interventions.

Under that plan, all schools would be reviewed on an annual basis. If the Jefferson City district maintained the same percentages in 2014 as it did in 2013 —when it earned a 77.1 percent rating — it would be considered a “Tier II” district.

This would mean that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education could review the district’s performance for the past three years and identify its performance trends. If the review reveals trends indicating the district could be in danger of losing accreditation, DESE could issue a letter to the superintendent and the school board recommending interventions.

If the downward trend continued, the state department could ask the district to submit for review its Comprehensive School Improvement Plan, or CSIP.

So, what’s the difference between the school’s CSIP plan and its Strategic Plan, which the Jefferson City Board of Education just approved this winter?

“Close cousins,” explained David Luther, JCPS communications director. “We opted to develop a ‘strategic plan’ that is more flexible and can be updated … changed when needed. We also think that calling it a strategic plan helps us avoid the educational jargon of CSIP.”

Luther said the CSIP is a compliance document mandated by the state; the strategic plan was reworked to fit the state’s required compliance elements.

Not only might the district have to submit its plans for review, DESE also might follow up quarterly and offer more aid until the district scores more than 75 percent on its report and all schools in the district receive more than 70 percent ratings on their reports as well.

These performance reviews are already happening. A speedier state response is what’s new.

“This plan provides the opportunity for early identification and intervention,” said Sarah Potter, DESE communications coordinator.

Potter said her agency isn’t going to intervene until one of three things happens: a district’s performance continues to decline; the district is in danger of becoming provisionally accredited; or if the district is unaccredited.

Currently three Missouri school districts are unaccredited and 11 are provisionally accredited. There are about 520 public school districts in Missouri.

Luther said what’s being talked about at the state level has not yet trickled down to local school leaders quite yet.

“At this point, it’s something we’re looking at. We don’t have enough information to determine how it’s going to affect schools in central Missouri,” he said.

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