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Mid-Missouri school districts are looking at their latest Annual Performance Review scores and analyzing how they can improve or maintain their achievements — and not having a science assessment calculated into this year's score was a boost for some and a worry for others.

The APR is how the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education evaluates the state's public schools, with an overall percentage for a district given based on points earned out of points possible — and the results for the 2017-18 school year were made public Friday.

Schools were evaluated in key performance indicator areas of academic achievement in English, math and social studies — science was not included this year because a new test was being tried out — achievement of groups of students who haven't historically performed as well in school; college and career readiness; and attendance and graduation rates.

Not having science included in the assessments worried Joyce Ryerson a bit ahead of the APR data being released. Ryerson is superintendent of the Morgan County R-2 (Versailles) district.

The district scored 87.9 percent overall.

"The thing I'm probably most proud of is under the academic achievement, we scored a 92.5 (percent). That was the biggest unknown for us with the new assessments — and not having biology, which traditionally had been a pretty high scoring area for us," Ryerson said Friday.

On the other hand, "Really for us, we kind of benefited this year from the exclusion of science. It's hit or miss on how well we perform on the state testing in that area," Osage County R-1's Superintendent Lyle Best said Friday.

"Whenever you eliminate those points possible, that really did help our score. That's not to say if we would have had testing in that area, if it would have been included, that we wouldn't have seen an increase. We don't know. But that's been an area where we haven't scored as many points. That's probably why we saw a little bit of the increase," Best said.

Best's district in Chamois scored a 94.8 percent on the APR overall — higher than what it's been in recent years, around 89 percent, he said.

"I think we still need some improvement in our government scores. The social studies side, that's been an area that we've left a few out there in the past, as is the case this year," Best said.

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The latest APR results are new baseline scores for districts — not really comparable to previous years because of changes to English and math assessments.

The St. Elizabeth R-4 district had a perfect score on the latest APR. Only Moniteau County R-1 (California) tied in that achievement, out of the 22 school districts in Mid-Missouri the News Tribune examined.

"We can't improve 100 percent, but we're going to work hard not to drop below that," St. Elizabeth's Superintendent Doug Kempker said Friday.

Kempker said the district's performance is benefited by a lower rate of students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch and historically high attendance rates of 97-98 percent. That high achievement is also due to good staff identifying students' needs early and working with students one-on-one, he added.

Even with a perfect score on the APR, Kempker said, "We just take the approach of let's get after it and let's look at where we fell short." He said the district's staff will take the APR's data and look at individual students' records to identify students who could be on the verge of academic improvement or sliding backwards, and schedule extra tutoring as needed.

"I wish it was a little higher, but for the most part, we're feeling pretty good about it. We do have some work in college and career readiness. That's kind of been a focus for us, actually (for) a couple of years now," Ryerson said of the work ahead of the Versailles district.

The district scored 23.5 points out of a possible 30 for college and career readiness.

"We have been looking for ways to get more kids into internships, apprenticeships, working with the Work-Ready Communities Initiative in this area — which hopefully then we'll start to see translate into some higher scores in that area," she said, adding, "We are assessing all of our seniors this year in the WorkKeys (test), as one additional assessment to try to improve scores there."

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WorkKeys is an ACT assessment that focuses more on measuring workplace skills.

Versailles' district scored 7.5 points out of 10 possible for its attendance rate.

"We had been focusing on attendance in our district for a couple years now as well. We were really hoping we would have seen a little bit more growth, although some of the incentives that we're using this year — kind of the carrot and the stick — we're starting to see signs that those are going to pay off moving forward," Ryerson said.

"It seems like our attendance has been a little bit better this year than last year, especially at the high school. They've implemented a, basically a policy that if you don't have the 90 percent attendance that follows you all the way through high school, if you don't have that by the time you graduate, then you cannot walk at graduation," she said.

The state measures attendance off the expectation that 90 percent of students are in school 90 percent of the time they should be.

Ryerson added there are appeals for unforeseen circumstances such as hospital stays, and on certain days, junior and seniors are allowed to leave a little bit early at the end of the day if their attendance is at a certain level and they're passing all their classes.

"In English language arts, we have actually gone through an extensive review of our reading program this year, to see if it's still meeting the needs of our kids, basically pre K-5. The elementary has worked pretty hard on that this year. They've decided they do not want to switch our program, mostly because they're not finding anything that's as quality as what they feel we currently have. However, some of the things that did come to light are we need to work on implementing more rigorous types of reading passages, especially in grades 3, 4 and 5," Ryerson said.

Versailles' district scored 13 points out of a possible 16 on students' achievement in English subjects. The APR assessments rated 13.2 percent of the district's students as having an advanced proficiency in English; 25.5 percent of students at a proficient level; 40.9 percent at a basic proficiency level, and 20.4 percent at a below basic level of proficiency.

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Chamois' district scored better on the APR in students' achievement in English subjects, even though a higher percentage of students — 23.4 percent — were assessed at a below basic level of proficiency. Smaller percentages of students were at a basic or advanced level of proficiency, but more — 30.9 percent — were assessed at a proficient level.

APR points are earned through as one or more of three types: status, growth and progress. Status points reflect a three-year average of a district or school's level of achievement on state assessments. Growth points look at individual students' performance year over year. Progress points measure whether there's continuous improvement.

The Chamois, Versailles and Iberia R-5 school districts had the highest percentages of students assessed at a below basic proficiency level in English subjects, out of the 22 Mid-Missouri districts the News Tribune looked at.

St. Elizabeth tied with Blair Oaks R-2 as having the top percentage of students — 29.1 percent — who were assessed at an advanced level of proficiency in English subjects, followed by Eldon R-1 at 26.1 percent.

The Miller County R-3 (Tuscumbia), Iberia and North Callaway County R-1 districts had the highest percentages of students at a below basic proficiency level in math: Tuscumbia, 35.6 percent; Iberia, 32.7 percent; North Callaway, 31.7 percent.

Blair Oaks, South Callaway County R-2 and St. Elizabeth had the highest percentages of students assessed at an advanced level of proficiency in math: Blair Oaks, 29 percent; South Callaway, 25.3 percent; and St. Elizabeth, 25.2 percent.

Not every Mid-Missouri district was assessed on social studies, and even some of those that were have incomplete data from the APR.

Every Mid-Missouri school district of the 22 the News Tribune examined received full APR credit for their graduation rates — except Jefferson City Public Schools, though JCPS leaders said last week the district's rate, 84.5 percent, had not actually changed from the previous year.

All of the 22 districts except for four — JCPS, Eldon, Versailles and Fulton 58, which each received 7.5 points out of a possible 10 — received full credit for their attendance rates.

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In a phone conference with Missouri news reporters Wednesday, the state education department's leaders cautioned even schools that have performed perfectly on the latest APR that not everything is about their score on the state's evaluation, though.

"Any system that measures schools has sort of a lifespan, and we're near the end of this one. So, if you're hitting 100 percent on this one, it may be that you need to focus on something that is beyond the scale of this system," Chris Neale said. Neale is DESE's assistant commissioner for the Office of Quality Schools.

The APR is the yearly update on schools' and districts' progress under the Missouri School Improvement Plan — which is expected to transition from its fifth to sixth version during the next two or three school years. However, Kevin Freeman — director of school improvement for DESE — said in late November future APR assessments will be comparable to the 2017-18 results, at least until MSIP 6 is in place.

"I hope (the APR) is not the entire scope of what a school bases its goals and its direction of improvement on. I hope there are finer-grained examinations of the data, so that even if there are a wealth of APR points, there's an examination of individual students and individual groups that might provide an area of focus and improvement for schools, whether that be in assessment terms or preparation for life beyond school," Neale added Wednesday.

Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven said, "Many of our schools that are seeing certain kinds of points are seeing that on growth; this is a continuous improvement model. In order to continue to earn those points, they'll need to continue to demonstrate improvement and growth, individual student growth."

"A lot of it for me is not saying, 'Hey, we need to have this report to look better.' It's just 'What are good things that we could be doing in our school that we're not doing, in terms of instruction and in terms of how we interact with students and what we offer. Let's try to find some good things that we can do that maybe we're not, because it's the right thing to do, and then hopefully, that will show up on your state assessments and your APR," Chamois' superintendent Best said Friday.

"It's 'What are we doing? How do we expand on what we're doing?' because it's just the right thing to do," he added.

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