By HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - More than twice as many Missouri school districts would see their accreditations receive extra scrutiny and fewer would be classified as high achieving under a tough, new evaluation system set to take effect next year, projections show.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education ran the projections as part of its preparation for switching to the new standards in the upcoming academic year. They require higher test scores in some subjects and schools will have to track things like how many students succeed in higher-level courses rather than just how many enroll in them.
The latest version of the Missouri School Improvement Program won't produce its first official batch of results until 2013. But if the new standards were applied to 2011 data, 57 of the state's 521 districts - about 11 percent - would fall in a low-performing range that would put them at risk of becoming provisionally accredited or unaccredited, up from 21 districts under the old system, according to information presented to the state Board of Education this week.
State education officials would review several years of data for low-performing districts and work with them on improvements. But if a district fails year after year, the state Board of Education can reduce its accreditation to provisional or strip it entirely.
Also, fewer schools would be recognized as high achieving, 109 under the new system compared to 332 under the old system.
"It is going to look a little tougher because we have more rigorous standards in place now, but we think that's a good thing," said Sarah Potter, a spokeswoman for DESE, of the new system. "Also we are identifying those schools that are really performing and those that need some more help."
Currently, Kansas City, St. Louis and nearby Riverview Gardens are the state's only three districts deemed unaccredited - a designation that can ultimately lead to a state takeover. Nine other districts are provisionally accredited, meaning they're subject to extra monitoring.
The state board is expected to review the accreditation classification of seven other districts at its September meeting. They are Climax Springs R-IV, Hickman Mills C-I, Normandy, Scott Co. Central, Swedeborg R-III, University City, Winfield and the Special School District St. Louis County.
After that, most districts won't see their accreditation classification change until 2015, giving them three years to improve under the new system. The state board, however, retains the right to intervene if districts make big gains or losses during the three-year phase-in period.
Potter said the purpose of the analysis was to see "where the schools might fall" and stressed that there are no penalties. Districts weren't even notified of the results. School systems won't get the first glimpse of how they might fare until the fall when the state plans to put soon-to-be released 2012 test score data into the new version of the accreditation system.
The state's system of accrediting schools predates the federal No Child Left Behind Education law, and the latest version is the fifth. It's not uncommon when the state updates the evaluation system for early estimates to predict jumps in the number of districts falling in the unaccredited and provisionally accredited range. Ultimately, many of those districts are able to improve enough to avoid those categories, and the state plans to work with districts to ensure the same thing will happen this time.
"We definitely want to make a concerted effort so that it looks very different in three years," said Margie Vandeven, an assistant commissioner for DESE. "I think it's fair to say that we have high expectations for our students and our districts. And when those expectations are set, in the past, they have shown that they will rise to meet them."
Schools officials are greeting the new evaluation system with some trepidation. Roger Kurtz, executive director of the Missouri Association of School Administrators, said some school officials feel state funding isn't keeping pace with the increased academic expectations.
The budget for public schools signed Sunday includes a $5 million increase to the state's $3 billion school fund. But that is still is far shy of the amount called for by the state funding formula.
"We should expect higher standards for our kids," Kurtz said. "But they're not real happy with how we're getting cut off at the legs on funding."