The new version of Missouri’s school accountability system gets more things right, with the Annual Performance Report’s simple index score, a more holistic view of school performance and the inclusion of student growth as a core measurement. But its overall metrics still remain flawed and don’t go far enough to identify which buildings are succeeding or failing their students academically. Most concerning, academic growth is weighted too low and the focus on district versus school level performance penalizes smaller systems and those that serve higher needs students. In summary, the system still does not accurately capture school quality and does not effectively support improvement in our public schools.
The state’s recent release of the Annual Performance Report gives us a snapshot of how districts and charter schools fared during the 2021-22 school year – a tough year for everyone. The report is intended to measure how well districts and local education agencies (LEAs) are doing their jobs – whether students are learning, graduating, attending class, and whether the school has a healthy environment.
The latest revision to Missouri’s School Improvement Program – MSIP6 – includes several improvements:
- Scores are more straightforward with a total tabulated as an overall percentage similar to a grade.
- Academic growth, which demonstrates the rate at which students are learning compared to similarly situated students and therefore the value add of any given school system, is now a core metric.
- The report is more holistic and includes school climate, which is vital to teaching and learning and correlates with student progress and teacher retention.
- This version follows the basic rules of mathematics and as a result, we see a more normalized distribution of school district performance. Unlike previous versions, districts cannot receive more than the total number of available points in any given category. However, where school districts fall within that distribution isn’t always an accurate reflection of performance due to the underweighting of student academic growth.
How It Must Be Further Improved
Across the country, states whose students are showing the most improvement on national exams have accountability systems that more heavily weight academic growth. In Mississippi, for example, where students show the greatest progress nationwide in both fourth grade math and reading, growth and achievement are weighted at 95% of the state’s school accountability scores.
In Missouri, these metrics account for less than half – 48% – of the APR score.
Other areas where MSIP6 falls short:
- It was designed to rate K-12 school districts, not individual schools. Schools serving a smaller gradespan, such as an elementary school, don’t generate data for every measure. For this reason, building-level scores may differ significantly among buildings with different grade spans, and building-to-district comparisons aren’t apples to apples.
- It combines academic outcomes with compliance (regulatory paperwork schools must complete). Points should not be awarded for turning in mandatory paperwork – they should be awarded for ensuring children learn.
- It does not adequately value academic growth and achievement. We support legislation that would increase academics to 80% of overall scores, as measured by state assessments.
- This leads to the mislabeling of schools with high-poverty student populations by not placing enough weight on student growth. In some St. Louis charter and district schools, students are learning at a rate much faster than their peers in suburban districts. But their overall APR score is lower. Why? Because growth still doesn’t have the weight that it should as the truest measure of school quality.
- It does not have a consistent set of interventions and supports for schools that are underperforming. Missouri should measure quality (and determine accreditation) at the building level rather than the district level so that underperforming schools don’t remain hidden in high-performing districts.
Fundamentally, state assessment systems are intended to help amplify what is working and to encourage improvement. This sixth version of MSIP falls short of both of the essential objectives. Missouri’s children and educators deserve a better system that holds all of us to a high bar while supporting continuous learning and improvement.
We are advocating alongside others for legislation that would address these shortcomings.
- View current bills in the House and Senate.
- Reach out to St. Louis-area representatives on the Missouri State Board of Education and encourage them to support better school accountability and to set goals for annual improvement in our public education system.
- Pamela Westbrook-Hodges, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Kerry Casey, email@example.com