• ‘Confusion’ in accreditation process

    St. Louis American

    Posted: Thursday, August 16, 2012 12:05 am

    The St. Louis Public School District earned enough progress points this year to qualify for provisional accreditation status, according to annual state evaluation reports released on Tuesday.


    But the state is not ready to give SLPS that status, said Chris Nicastro, commissioner of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Nicastro wants to see three years of improvement from St. Louis, making the earliest time for consideration next year, she said. And that will be her recommendation to the state board of education.


    “St. Louis at this point appears to be a success story,” Nicastro said. “But (SLPS Superintendent) Kelvin Adams would be the first to say they have a long way to go.”


    However, SLPS Superintendent Kelvin Adams said the district has made improvement for the past three years in various tested areas – including the most recent state evaluation.


    The SLPS district earned seven points out of the 14 points possible in the annual performance report (APR) from the Missouri School Improvement Program. That is one more standard met than last year. SLPS earned a point for meeting the standard in high-school algebra – giving Adams the student performance category point that he’s been gunning for this year.


    A K-12 school district must meet at least nine of the 14 accreditation standards to be fully accredited and at least six to be provisionally accredited. Since 2007, St. Louis has been unaccredited and under the control of a special administrative board.


    However, the district has met all the guidelines to be provisionally accredited, Adams said.

    “It’s a matter of policy,” he said. “The district should be considered for provisional accreditation. I am going to fight really hard for the students, families and workers in our district.”


    The state’s two other unaccredited school districts, Riverview Gardens and Kansas City, also saw gains. Riverview gained a point from last year, moving it up to four, and Kansas City met five standards, up from three a year ago.


    “I think what we’ve seen in St. Louis is effective improvement,” Nicastro said. “We would certainly take some credit for that. Most credit for that goes to the local superintendent and the board. We can’t improve schools from Jefferson City, and we certainly acknowledge that.”


    Normandy graduation rate

    Normandy School District, which is provisionally accredited, met five standards. Normandy Superintendent Stanton Lawrence said he believes the district should have earned six points – one point for the graduation rate.


    Over the next few weeks, Nicastro will review Normandy’s progress and six other districts before making recommendations to the board on their accreditation status.

    Two years ago Normandy became the first provisionally-accredited school district in the country to absorb another school district that the state had closed, Lawrence said.

    “When we had conversations with DESE at that time, they assured us that they would do everything in their power to make sure Normandy succeeded,” Lawrence said.

    “We embraced those young people because it was the right thing to do. They are Normandy kids now. We have a lot of work to do to get their academic skill levels to be where it needs to be. We are trying to encourage the state to be sensitive to this work.”

    ‘Not written in policy’

    Normandy is one of nine provisionally accredited districts in the state, and it has two fewer points than SLPS. The state has been inconsistent in how it awards provisional accreditation and that can be challenging, Adams said. Though Nicastro said the improvement needs to be consistent over a certain period of time, Adams said that’s not state policy – that’s Nicastro’s perception.

    “That is not written in the policy,” Adams said. “There may be a level of confusion.”


    What makes Adams fight even more crucial is that DESE will change its evaluation process this year. And during the transition to the new system “MSIP 5,” the department will not be changing any district’s accreditation status until 2015, said Sarah Potter, DESE spokeswoman. The board would make an exception if any district could show “sustained improvement,” she said, but otherwise it will be a three-year wait.


    Both Lawrence and Adams said their districts aren’t anywhere close to where they want them to be, but they are encouraged by the positive movement in their districts. And both will be fighting hard to convince the state board to approve provisional accreditation.

    “I’m not celebrating the success,” Lawrence said. “It’s like we’ve been in the desert and we see a little water and think we’ve arrived. But we haven’t.”