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Discussion: What Do New Scores Mean For The Future Of St. Louis Area Schools?

Students like these at Townsend Elementary School will not be taking any field trips this year. (KWMU Staff Photo)
KWMU Staff
Students like these at Townsend Elementary School will not be taking any field trips this year. (KWMU Staff Photo)

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released its Annual Performance Report for Missouri school districts last week. It is the first year in which schools were assessed under new standards. The results disappointed many local leaders and leave plenty of room for improvement for a number of St. Louis area schools, including St. Louis Public Schools.

As previously reported by St. Louis Public Radio, unaccredited Riverview Gardens and Normandy school districts again received scores in the unaccredited range under the new standards, as did provisionally accredited St. Louis Public Schools.

To give schools time to adjust to the new MSIP5 standards, the scores will not affect accreditation for two to three years.

DESE, however, reserves the right to determine accreditation earlier, especially if they "see some extreme shifts," said Margie Vandeven, deputy commissioner of learning services at DESE.

The low score received by St. Louis Public Schools is all the more disappointing, said Kathleen Sullivan Brown, because the new MSIP5 standards are supposed to take into account improvements a school district has made.

"I would think that we are seeing some progress," said Brown of SLPS. She is an associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri -St. Louis.

Compared to MSIP4, MSIP5 is more robust, rigorous and focused on the individual child, said Vandeven. The standards now measure improvement as well as outcome, science and social studies MAP scores, and multiple career paths by looking at scores on tests for community colleges and the military in addition to the ACT.

As for why some school districts continue to do better than others and what can be done to help districts such as SLPS, Normandy and Riverview Gardens improve, there are no easy answers.

"Missouri is both a very urban state and a very rural state with a lot of very small communities," said Brown. "Finding an education policy that fits all those communities is difficult."

A listener and subsequent caller to the program commented on an apparent correlation between income level and success. Brown said rather than income level, access to resources would be a more accurate predictor of high performance.

"I was a child who came out of poverty," said Brown. "I now have a Ph.D. from Washington University...Poverty does not cause children not to learn, and race does not cause children not to learn. I will say resources have a lot to do with it...vocabulary has a lot to do with it."

"It's not wealth that causes people to be smart," she added. "It's the kind of experiences that people can have with that flexibility in their lives."

Brown also noted the disparity of resources available from district to district. In Clayton, she said, $18,000 is spent per child each year. On average, $9,500 is spent per child in Missouri.

"Our state average is half of what our high performing districts are doing," said Brown.

St. Louis on the Air provides discussion about issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh.

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