• A stinging audit and fast fixes. Good work at both ends
    February 25, 2014 6:00 am  •  By the Editorial Board
     
    Auditor
     

    State Auditor Tom Schweich (right) greets St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams in the Wainwright Building in downtown St. Louis on Wednesday, Sept. 4,2013, after Schweich announced his office's findings in an audit of the St. Louis Public Schools. 

     

    In just five months the St. Louis Public Schools have moved the needle from criticism to praise from Missouri Auditor Thomas Schweich.

    In September, Mr. Schweich released a critical audit of the schools, showing that the district was violating state law by promoting thousands of students with below-par reading skills to the next grade level.

    On Thursday, Mr. Schweich complimented the district for moving swiftly to fix the problems revealed in the audit.

    The so-called “social promotions” issue was the most troubling criticism among the finding that there were 18 areas with shortcomings. The audit disclosed that more than 2,000 students tested at the lowest level possible in the reading section of the 2011 and 2012 Missouri Assessment Program tests.

    Despite that poor showing, only 158 students were held back in 2011 and 128 in 2012. Administrators at the time told Mr. Schweich’s staff that it was too expensive to hold back each child who was behind in reading,even though the state law ordered them to.

    The audit also accused the district of not doing enough to prevent standardized test fraud, failing to keep tabs on hundreds of programs at district schools and not following competitive bidding procedures for some purchases, such as for textbooks and musical instruments.

    In the not-so-distant past, correcting such problems would have taken years and involved a lot of finger-pointing and ducking for cover.

    Not now. After the stinging audit, Superintendent Kelvin Adams put a process into place to hold back children with weak reading skills if interventions such as tutoring and summer school don’t work.

    St. Louis Public Schools also are prohibited by law from passing any child with inadequate reading skills beyond eighth grade.

    Mr. Adams said the new process and law may not result in hundreds of children being held back next year, but could help the district identify students who need help and enable teachers to document the help they provide.

    Among other improvements cited by Mr. Schweich are a new district policy that would trigger action whenever general fund reserves dip below 3 percent, and a new plan to evaluate the effectiveness of 540 programs in place in St. Louis schools.

    This is the way government should work: good oversight and quick remediation of problems. Kudos to Mr. Schweich,Mr. Adams and their staffs.