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Report card time: Struggling school districts show improvement

Judy Baxter, via Flickr

Struggling school districts in the St. Louis area got some welcome good news with this year’s annual report card from the state.

Riverview Gardens, Jennings and St. Louis Public Schools all posted scores that would put them into the fully accredited range, with more than 70 percent of the 140 points possible on the Annual Performance Report (APR).

And even Normandy, which once again had the lowest score in the state and the only one in unaccredited range, showed solid growth, rising from just 7.1 percent last year to 30.4 percent in its first year as the reconstituted Normandy Schools Collaborative.

Superintendents of those districts cite similar factors for their solid gains: close attention to data, stability in leadership at the district and building levels, and increased collaboration among districts that helps all schools perform their best.

Scott Spurgeon, whose unaccredited Riverview Gardens district earned 79.3 percent of its possible points – up from 45.4 percent last year – said it’s all about emphasizing fundamentals and paying close attention to what each student needs and where each student is.

“We're personalization with precision here,” said Spurgeon, who is in his third year at the district. “You'll hear that comment over and over again. When students are at school, we know where they are percentage-wise. We know what their reading scores are.

“In fact, it's a non-negotiable for each student in our district, K through five, when I ask them what their reading score is, they should be able to tell me, and they should have a goal set for themselves.”

In Jennings, which is provisionally accredited, the progress report score continues to go up. Two years ago, it was 65.7 percent. Last year, it moved into the fully-accredited range, at 78.2. And it was even higher this time around, at 81.1

Jennings Superintendent Tiffany Anderson, whose district is often cited as a good example of what students in a high-poverty area can achieve, said the difference is seeking to copy models of success and working with other districts to find the best way to motivate students and teachers.

“We are excited to see the continued progress,” she said. “We expected our students to continue to do well. We feel we have a system that is effective, and if we will continue to work within the system, we will continue to see progress.”

You can get a detailed breakdown of how Normandy, St. Louis Public Schools and Riverview Gardens account for their progress, by reading the article: Annual report cards up close: How troubled schools are managing to improve.

Seeking sustainable trends

Margie Vandeven, the state’s commissioner for elementary and secondary education, said that this year’s report cards show that districts in Missouri have come a long way in the three years since the latest version of the state’s school improvement program has been in place.

But, she added, districts can’t expect changes in their accreditation classification based on just one year of data.

“We still have work to do,” Vandeven said. “One APR does not constitute a sustainable trend of either improvement or decline.”


You can download full APR results, by district and by building, from the DESE website here.

The district report cards were delayed by a couple of months this year, primarily because the state changed the annual Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) tests last spring to be based on Common Core state standards. State law prohibits downgrading any district’s accreditation at this point based on test scores. Because lawmakers voted for Missouri to move away from Common Core, new tests will be devised for next spring.

Test scores make up half of the 140 points for the report cards, with other factors such as graduation rate, attendance and college or career readiness making up the rest.

The state’s scoring method classifies districts with 70 percent or more of the 140 points available on the reviews as fully accredited. Districts scoring between 50 and 70 percent are provisionally accredited. Anything below 50 percent – which this year included only Normandy – means unaccredited.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said just seven districts fell into the provisional accreditation range. At the other end of the spectrum, 35 districts earned a perfect score.

While state education officials cautioned that MAP test scores aren’t really comparable from last year to this year because of the change in tests, Vandeven said that the formula for determining the report cards take that change into account, with an emphasis on year-over-year growth, so report card numbers can be compared from one year to the next.

Margie Vandeven elementary and secondary education
Credit Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
Margie Vandeven

“You have to look at each district and how they earned their points,” she said. “I am personally optimistic about a number of our districts that earned growth points. We have to be cautious, but that growth metric is one to look at.”

Vandeven praised the improvements registered by St. Louis, Riverview Gardens and Normandy.

In St. Louis, Vandeven specified growth in English and math as well as an improved graduation rate. She said Riverview Gardens has worked closely with state education officials to focus on data.

As for Normandy, which completed its first year as a state formed collaborative, Vandeven said the district is still on a three-year timeline to show improvement. But, she added:

“I think we learned a lot from that first year of intervention, and we’ve seen a lot of really strong movement forward based on some of our joint executive governing board and some of the decisions that were made. We’re feeling much more positive about the start of this school year.”

No clear pattern for charter schools

Though the state does not give charters an accreditation classification, of the state’s 34 charter schools, five scored in the unaccredited range of less than 50 percent, while 10 more were in provisionally accredited territory and none had a perfect score.


The St. Louis charters in the equivalent of unaccredited territory were Better Learning Communities Academy, Confluence Academies, Preclarus Mastery Academy, and Construction Careers, which is now closed.

Doug Thaman, who heads the Missouri Charter Public School Association, said nearly half of the charters in St. Louis scored over 70 percent on their report cards – the equivalent of full accreditation.

A statement from the association said the most relevant measures for charters are to compare them to schools that educate similar student populations, to statewide averages and to how individual schools have performed in the past. It also included a number of comparisons between St. Louis charters and St. Louis Public Schools in a variety of subject areas.

“The community is best served when they have multiple educational options of quality,” Thaman said in a statement, “and each parent can select what is best for their children.

“We cannot use new assessments, changes in format, or arguments regarding state standards as excuses. We must ensure that the options parents have are the very, very best.”

One district that has remained on the bubble between full and provisional accreditation in recent years has been Ferguson-Florissant. Its score has moved from 69.3 percent two years ago to 65.7 percent last year to 69.6 percent this year.

University City, which also scored in the high-60 range in 2013 and 2014, registered a solid increase this year, rising to 78.6 percent.

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.
Tim Lloyd was a founding host of We Live Here from 2015 to 2018 and was the Senior Producer of On Demand and Content Partnerships until Spring of 2020.