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APR scores important to schools

Thursday, December 2, 2004

SIKESTON -- When it comes to measuring the success of Missouri schools, everything usually leads back to one thing -- the state standardized test.

And the accreditation status of a school district is no exception. Much of the standards used to determine whether a district is accredited relies heavily on Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) test scores.

Recently the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released districts' Annual Performance Reports (APR), which are components of the state's accreditation system called the Missouri School Improvement Plan (MSIP).

The APR consists of 12 standards which include MAP scores, ACT scores, dropout rates, advanced courses, vocational courses and attendance.

Sikeston R-6 Curriculum Director Dr. Stephanie Reddick said the APR is extremely important to school districts.

"It's something we look at each year. If you don't have the performance, you don't receive accreditation," said Reddick, who noted Sikeston's score was 73.

All local school districts, with the exception of Charleston R-1, met the minimum requirement of 66 points; Charleston had 64 points. The minimum score determines whether a district is accredited, provisionally accredited or unaccredited.

"This is an indicator of an early warning sign for them," said DESE Spokesman Jim Morris about Charleston R-1. "This current annual report is a status. It means if Charleston underwent a full-scale review today, then provisionally accredited is likely where they will be."

However, there is no immediate consequence from Charleston's APR score, Morris said.

"What it tells us is if Charleston were getting ready to undergo its full-scale five-year review, the score may be more significant," Morris pointed out.

For example, since Charleston is scheduled to be reviewed next October during the 2005-2006 school year, the critical data for the district will be from spring 2005, which will then be looked at in fall 2006, Morris said.

For accreditation purposes, DESE looks at five years worth of data, Morris explained. The current report gives the latest version based on 2003-2004 scores, and in many cases, the APR serves as a progress report, he said.

In addition to determining a district's accreditation, the APR also paints an overall picture of how the district achieves at all grade levels, said Reddick.

"We have a pretty good idea of what the scores are going to be. The only thing we can't determine is if we're going to get bonus points," Reddick said, adding, sometimes districts get bonus points if they're closing the minority achievement gap.

Sikeston R-6 Superintendent Steve Borgsmiller noted the accreditation process is a lengthy one. Generally districts have an on-site evaluation every five years, which is how all schools receive their accreditation, he explained.

Even though districts don't have an on-site evaluation each year, they must continue working like they do, Borgsmiller said. For instance, Sikeston R-6 finished its on-site MSIP review last February, the district treats each year as if it were being reviewed, he said.

"We can never take our foot off the gas and we have to drive hard and drive well and carefully and focus on academics and the students," Borgsmiller said.

Currently student (and teacher) performance is measured by the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) tests. The tests are also used to determine the adequate yearly progress (AYP) each district makes toward meeting the goals of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, a law which aims to have all children proficient in math and reading by 2014.

And in fall 2006 -- when DESE begins its fourth MSIP cycle -- the fate of Missouri school districts' accreditation could also be affected by the yearly state exams, should AYP be added to the performance standards used to determine whether or not a district is accredited. Proposals are currently being considered by DESE officials.

"It will be interesting to see how changes will affect districts," Reddick said. "They're (DESE) talking about taking away bonus points, which could hurt schools, since generally many get the bonus points."

But for now Morris said state officials have yet to officially determine whether or not AYP -- a federal requirement -- will be integrated into state APR standards, although it is very likely.

"The mechanics of how we would make that dovetailed with our state accreditation standards may be a little tricky," Morris said. "The issue, for us, is whether we can make the state and federal standards go together seamlessly, so to speak, in a way that makes an easy transition for schools."