• Editorial: State needs to grant provisional accreditation to St. Louis schools


    To understand the mixed bag of test score results received by the St. Louis Public Schools this week, it helps to think of the school district as a high school athlete who needs a good report card to stay academically eligible.

    The borderline student doesn't need to get straight As to keep blocking and tackling, dribbling and shooting. Sometimes turning a D to a C will do the trick.

    In the latest round of various state tests and analysis of school district performance, the non-accredited St. Louis Public Schools got that sort of report card. Not great, but enough to keep the district eligible for regaining accreditation.

    It is disappointing that in 14 out of 18 categories of the Missouri Assessment Program tests, the school district's performance dropped. But most of those drops were minor enough to be considered statistically insignificant. Overall, the district fell from 32 percent of students scoring "proficient" on communications arts to 30 percent. A similar decline, from 30 percent to 27 percent proficient, occurred in math.

    The big news: The district scored one point higher on the 14-point scale that determines whether a district meets state accreditation standards. St. Louis Public Schools now meets seven of the 14 standards, which include test scores, accountability measures and graduation rates.

    That one point — a 7 instead of a 6 — makes the district eligible to be provisionally accredited. That step could put the district closer to the ultimate goal of meeting full state standards.

    Maybe it doesn't seem like much that the struggling public school district has gone from what was effectively an F to a D-plus or a C-minus. But it is progress, and it is important for the school district and the state to be able to show progress to parents in the district.

    That's why the Special Administrative Board that runs the district should make a special appeal to state Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro to award the district provisional accreditation.

    Achieving provisional accreditation would send a message to St. Louis parents that the schools are headed in the right direction. By many standards, they are. Such a move would put the state seal of approval on Superintendent Kelvin Adams' plans to increase access to early childhood education, develop stronger charter and magnet schools and develop better training for school principals and teachers.

    "Accreditation is just a comma; it's not a period," Mr. Adams told us.

    Like a quarterback who needs a good report card to be eligible to play in the playoffs, the district needs provisional accreditation to stay in play.

    The timing is especially important. Next year the state will adopt a new system for grading the annual performance of school districts. The state Board of Education is expected to postpone making accreditation determinations for a couple of years as it develops baseline performance under the new standards.

    Leaving St. Louis Public Schools in the unaccredited category while it adjusts to the new standards would make it more likely that parents and students would flee the district, compounding the difficult task facing Mr. Adams and the Special Administrative Board.

    The one downside to being granted provisional accreditation now is that such a move could spark a push to reinstate the power of the local school board. That would be a mistake.

    There is widespread confidence in the ability of the Special Administrative Board to continue making progress. District officials are confident that the unique provisions of state law that apply to the St. Louis Public Schools will allow the Special Administrative Board to stay in place, as it should.

    The success of the SAB in providing state and local accountability has been key to the steady rise in meeting overall accreditation standards. It's worth remembering that in 2007, when the district lost accreditation, fewer than 20 percent of students were reading or doing math at grade level. The district's finances were in shambles. Enrollment was worse. The district scored a 2 out of 14 on the annual progress report in 2007. It was up to a 5 in 2010, a 6 last year, and now a 7. Much progress has been made.

    There are still too many children in St. Louis and in the other unaccredited districts (Riverview Gardens, Jennings, Normandy and Kansas City) who aren't getting the education they deserve. For that matter, even in the Ladue schools, the state's highest-scoring district for communications arts, 21 percent of the students don't meet proficiency standards.

    Four out of five is not good enough anywhere, and it never should be. But improving our public schools is a long process with many ups and downs.

    Slowly, the St. Louis Public Schools are headed in the right direction. The state should recognize that process while continuing to demand more.