SIKESTON -- If they haven't already, many parents of local school children will receive letters informing them their children's school district or building has been classified by state education officials as "needing improvement."
The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recently notified more than 250 public schools and school districts they didn't meet the academic goals set by the state to meet federal law.
School officials have until Sept. 15 to check all the demographic data or to find any inequities in testing. On Oct. 1 the results will become official. Schools that don't meet these goals called adequate yearly progress, or AYP, in the same subject for two consecutive years are designated by the state as needing improvement.
This year Sikeston R-6 School District, Morehouse Elementary, Kelly School District, New Madrid County R-1 School District, Lilbourn Elementary, Portageville School District, Scott County Central High School and Charleston R-1 School District were classified as needing "Level 1 School Improvement." Hearnes Elementary in Charleston was designated as needing "Level 3 Corrective Action."
Districts and schools were determined as needing improvement based on results from the state's standardized Missouri Assessment Program test administered to students in the spring.
This year is the first the state has identified school districts that didn't meet the required goals so all district determinations are based on 2006 and 2007 MAP testing and attendance and graduation rate data.
"What level one means for a district level designation is the districts basically have to inform parents they have the designation and write a plan to improve," said Larry Flakne, director of federal instructional improvement for DESE.
Federal officials demand parent notification as early as possible. Like districts designated at "Level 1 School Improvement," schools "needing improvement" are also based on the past two years' data and the consequences are the same as districts except if school choice is available, such as more than one elementary, middle or high school that is not in school improvement, districts have to make that choice available to parents.
If a building is in "Level 2 School Improvement," they may continue to make school choice available and work on a plan and offer supplemental educational services, Flakne said.
"That means things like offering tutoring before and after school or gearing summer school specific to the needs of students who are not scoring at proficient or advanced levels," Flakne said.
When a building goes into "Level 3 Corrective Action," the district then works with the school to put in stronger sanctions.
"We ask schools to evaluate their improvement plan and add corrective actions, which could be a change in the governance of the school, change in the decision-making in school," Flakne said. "They could replace school staff relevant to the failure, institute and implement new research-based curriculum or professionally developed curriculum."
Schools may also bring in outside consultants, extend the school year and school day, restructure internal organization of the school or provide scientific research-based professional development, Flakne said.
"The recent notification that our district was designated in District Improvement, Level 1, was not something we wanted to hear, but not totally surprising to those who are familiar with the No Child Left Behind legislation," said Dr. Marisa Bowen, Sikeston R-6 assistant superintendent of curriculum and middle grades.
Bowen said the current accountability system in the NCLB Act has considerable weaknesses. NCLB requires all students in grades 3-8 in each racial, ethnic and socio-economic group and whether they have special needs or are native English speakers, to be proficient in math and reading by 2014, she said.
"Most people agree that proficiency for all is inconceivable," Bowen said. The preliminary results indicate that Sikeston R-6 failed to make AYP in math and reading two consecutive years in one subgroup: the Individual Education Plan student subgroup and that Morehouse Elementary did not make AYP in reading two consecutive years in one subgroup: the black student subgroup.
"It should be noted that, although the black student population did not make AYP in communication arts at Morehouse, the same group of students made AYP in math. In fact, not only did all of the Morehouse math subgroups make adequate yearly progress, they showed improvement from last year," Bowen said.
This year Sikeston R-6 has already put some programs in place which officials believe will benefit students and help to increase test scores, Bowen said. Some of these are: elementary schools have adopted a reading initiative; several literacy coaches have been added including reading literacy coaches for each elementary school; and remedial reading was added in grades 6, 7 and 8.
Charleston R-1 Superintendent Kevin Miller said school officials are concerned about this year's results.
"Obviously, we'll look closely at the data and determine where we fell short and why we fell short. We're just going to have to reevaluate what we did last year, make adjustments and move forward," Miller said.
Letters will be sent to parents, and the situation will be discussed with parents at school open houses, Miller said.
"Our district was named in the school improvement. We're in good company. Unfortunately, the No Child Left Behind requirements don't necessarily highlight the improvements you make," Miller said.
Like Bowen, Miller noted there are areas and subgroups where students made advances, but the advances are not recognized by federal education officials.
Miller pointed out Charleston students' ACT scores increased in every area this year and have been on the rise for the past five years.
"When the test has meaning to the students, they do well, When the test doesn't necessarily mean as much to students, don't do as well. It has to have personal meaning to the students, and the MAP doesn't have that," Miller said.
Dr. Cindy Amick, New Madrid County R-1 director of curriculum and instruction, said letters have gone out to parents, too.
"Our communication arts in elementary was very good and we're proud of those scores. We're doing what we're supposed to be doing. The math is what really took us out this time," she said.
New Madrid County R-1's patterning of test scores is not that much different from other years, Amick said.
"The state is changing the proficiency levels," Amick said. "That's what's changing where we're scoring. We're not doing any worse and we're not doing any better.
She continued: "We do have room to improve, but on the other hand, our teachers are working hard and doing what they're supposed to be doing."
As parents receive more information about their children's and school's MAP test results, Flakne said he thinks parents will pay attention.
"Parents believe in the schools and don't think it's something devastating (to be labeled as needing improvement). It's not like there are shootings where they all want to run out the door and change schools," Flakne said. In general, parents have faith in their schools, Flakne said.
"We haven't really seen people abandoning districts in trouble with the state or with No Child Left Behind," Flakne said.