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Normandy officials look past last year’s disappointing scores to this year’s hopes

File | St. Louis Public Radio

Normandy school officials hope disappointing test scores from last year don’t dampen the enthusiasm they’re seeing for improvement in the school year just begun.

Presenting the district’s latest MAP scores – the first report since it became the Normandy Schools Collaborative, run by a state-appointed board – Superintendent Charles Pearson acknowledged to board members Thursday night that “these are not high scores to say the least.”

On the numbers released last week, only 23.8 percent of Normandy students scored proficient or advanced in English, compared with a state average of 59.7 percent. The story was similar in math, where Normandy scored 12.4 percent compared with 45.2 for all Missouri districts.

After Pearson emphasized the steps the district has taken to improve for the new school year – more support and direction for teachers, a persistent stress on reading, a stronger curriculum, more instructional coaches – he sounded a more optimistic note, tempered with realistic goals.

“We will see some growth,” Pearson said. “We won’t see the kind of growth we wanted to see, but we will see some growth, which lays a foundation for us.”

The annual performance reports for Missouri schools have been delayed until October this year, as state education officials try to make sure that new tests are figured into the formula in a meaningful way. Pearson said increased graduation rates and other aspects of that report should counteract some of the effects of the low test scores.

Based on activities leading up to the first day of school, plus early reports of classes so far, Pearson was upbeat about the prospects for improvement this year, which will be the first full school year that he is in charge. Also enthusiastic is Cedric Portis, the board’s vice president and its newest member.

Saying that he has seen what he called a “revival” in the excitement level in the district, Portis, who is pastor of Third Presbyterian Church, acknowledged that the annual performance report for the 2014-15 school year is not likely to be good.

“Our expectation is that when those numbers come out,” he said, “they will reflect the year we had.”

But, he said in an interview after the meeting, he feels a new spirit in Normandy.

“We’ve been putting a lot of things in place,” Portis said. “Starting with our convocation, the excitement level of the principals, the teachers, even the students that participated, you saw the difference.

Cedric Portis, vice president of Normandy school board
Credit Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio
Cedric Portis

“I use the word a revival of sorts to say that we can do this. I think we can. So we’ve come out from the cloud, if you would, of last year, and I think there is a bright light on the horizon for our district. That’s what I believe.”

And, he added, no one should put too much emphasis on the latest test scores.

“I don’t know if you can just take one year and take it out of context,” he said. “This wasn’t a one-year problem that got us here. How do you know if the harvest was a success? You plant. You water. And you wait. So last year to this year, we’re still in the planting season.

“I think it’s a little early to talk about success, just based on the test scores. Because it took us a while to get here. It’s going to take us a little bit to get out. I wouldn’t necessarily say the test scores would be the end all, at this particular time. I would say give us time to look at that harvest. But it’s coming.”

Portis said he isn’t sure whether the Annual Performance Review for last year will be higher than it was the year before. But he did say he definitely foresees the score for the new school year to show an upward trend.

“I would expect that,” he said. “That is definitely my expectation. If it wasn’t my expectation, then I wouldn’t be here.”

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.