Written by: Peter Franzen, Associate Executive Director of CEAM
The Annual Performance Report (APR) issued by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is used to award school districts accreditation status. This status is critical for families because Missouri law allows students who reside in unaccredited school districts to transfer out to a nearby higher performing option.
The current APR formula has a number of calculations that only a handful of people truly understand. That said, there are some things about the formula that once revealed seem to defy common sense.
For example, the formula for determining APR rewards districts more for gains made by underperforming students in the Below Basic and Basic achievement levels than it does for students who achieve Proficiency. As I see it, this approach can easily result in lower performing school districts receiving a misleading APR score, which then informs each district’s accreditation.
Let me explain:
You will notice that there are five (5) points for the four (4) achievement categories. You will also see that there is an extra point jump from Below Basic to Basic – from one (1) point to three (3) points.
Now, according to DESE’s Comprehensive Guide to MSIP 5 (bottom of page 18) the reason for this point jump is that: “Assigning one (1) point to the Below Basic achievement level and three (3) points for the Basic achievement level supports Missouri’s expectation of placing every child on a path toward Proficiency.” They further state that “The additional point spread is designed to recognize…the movement of students from this least desirable achievement level.”
Herein lies the problem. If the goal is Proficiency, it is hard to imagine how this formula does anything other than award underperforming school districts with higher APR scores. This creates an illusion that most Missouri school districts are providing a quality education worthy of Accreditation. Using a five (5) point scale why not create a point jump between Basic and Proficient? That would truly give recognition to districts that meet the stated goal of Proficiency.
It is important to say here that recognizing and celebrating improvement is an important thing to do for districts that are helping their students who are struggling the most. However, to use that improvement to significantly impact the process for determining accreditation status fails to give parents an accurate tool for evaluating the performance of their child’s school district.
Why it Matters….
This very problem is being played out in real time for the students in the Riverview Gardens School District.
Despite having about the worst Missouri Assessment Program results in the state with only 23% of students proficient or advanced in English Language Arts and 12 proficient or advanced in Math, the district received a 2015 APR score of 79.3%; well into the range of Accreditation.
When you look into the numbers behind the score, you find that the Below Basic to Basic Index Point Value jump has played a central role by providing the district with high marks for Progress despite the extremely low Proficiency levels just mentioned.
Based on this “dramatic” increase in the Riverview APR score, the State Board of Education is doing everything it can to reaccredit the district and, as a board member said at the January board meeting, get it out from under the transfer program obligations. (Share your thoughts on this topic with an email to the State Board of Education at firstname.lastname@example.org)
When MSIP V was first implemented, CEAM and others supported its goals. That said, no one could have anticipated that it would be used without caution despite being applied to multiple, differing state standardized tests. Improvement is worth celebrating, but it should not equal accreditation when so few students are achieving the stated goal of Proficiency.