The district met all 14 academic standards in the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's Annual Performance Reports. Preliminary data were released last week.
Jackson earned a Distinction in Performance rating, reserved for Missouri K-12 school districts that meet at least 13 of 14 academic standards, and K-8 school systems that meet six of seven. Six of 17 Southeast Missouri districts posted perfect scores. Statewide, 208 of 522 districts earned the "distinction" honor, according to DESE.
The Cape Girardeau School District met 12 of 14 standards.
The performance reports, a report card on the state's public schools, are measures of how districts are meeting annual state standards and academic performance. Districts either meet or don't meet standards in testing scores (including state-required Missouri Assessment Program tests, ACT and end-of-course examinations), graduation and attendance rates, and other academic indicators.
But the annual assessment is more than a measure of strengths and weaknesses; it's a critical part of a district's educational standing.
To be fully accredited, a K-12 school district must meet at least nine of the 14 accreditation standards for academic performance and at least six to be provisionally accredited. A district that meets five or fewer standards may be classified as unaccredited by the State Board of Education. At present, 511 of Missouri's 522 school districts are fully accredited. Nine districts are provisionally accredited and two are unaccredited.
Of 17 school districts in Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Perry and Scott counties, 10 achieved the mark of distinction and all placed well within the parameters of accreditation.
The annual reports are viewed by educators as a broader assessment but not as stringent as the requirements for No Child Left Behind, which demands all students be proficient in math and communication arts by 2014, pending legislative updates. A number of Southeast Missouri schools have struggled to make the grade in meeting rising proficiency standards. The state's assessment awards points for slight improvement and extra credit for additional academic achievement.
Dr. Rita Fisher, the Jackson School District's assistant superintendent, said exemplary performance is the result of a team approach to education, a collaboration between community, administrators, teachers, parents and, above all, students.
"But it's also about high expectations," Fisher said.
The Jackson school system has committed to being a professional learning community, which begins with identifying what students need to know and assessing what tools are needed to get the job done, Fisher said. To bolster academic performance, the district has implemented daily advisory periods, providing students in grades six through 12 extra help with homework, among other academic assistance. And teachers meet weekly with peers, 50-minute sessions designed to improve collaboration.
Darryl Pannier, superintendent of the Nell Holcomb School District, knows complacency can be deadly in educational performance. The K-8 school system is celebrating its Distinction in Performance honor for meeting seven of seven standards, but the memory of Nell Holcomb's failure to make the state's adequate yearly progress assessment two years ago remains fresh. Adequate yearly progress, unlike the performance reports, is directly tied to the ever-rising proficiency goals required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
"That was a wake-up call," Pannier said. "We got comfortable."
"Our faculty and our principal were bound and determined to succeed, and I think that rubbed off on the students."
Pannier said the district's Comprehensive School Improvement Plan incorporates core subjects -- reading and math -- into noncore subjects. Physical education tests, for instance, might include the dimensions of the basketball court, while art class might emphasize the angles and geometry of sculpture.
The Cape Girardeau School District did not meet two performance standards on the annual report -- in graduation and attendance. Its graduation rate, at 72.9 percent, was an improvement over 2008's rate 72.3 percent but not enough to meet the state requirement.
"We'd still like to see that improve," said Cape Girardeau assistant superintendent Pat Fanger. "The high school has a goal of getting to the 90 percent level."
The district has rewritten its Comprehensive School Improvement Plan, which includes specific strategies for improving graduation and attendance rates and, consequently, meeting all 14 state educational standards. The district is approaching the graduation issue as a district problem, not simply a high school problem, Fanger said. That approach emphasizes early learning, programs that keep students engaged from kindergarten through high school, and bolstering the district's credit recovery program targeting at-risk students.
A computer glitch could have caused the Sikeston School District a diminished performance rating, according to a district official. DESE's preliminary report shows Sikeston met 10 of 14 standards, the lowest mark among 17 Southeast Missouri districts. Marisa Bowen, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the Sikeston school system, said the department is re-examining the district's graduation and college placement rates after incorrect data was found in the records -- errors that pulled down the two standards categories.
Bowen said the district should know this week whether the performance report improves. Wherever the assessment ends up, Bowen said, the district is taking steps to improve academic achievement. Programs like the district's ACT Blitz are designed to bolster college placement. Three times during the year before the ACT, students sign up to take a practice test, Bowen said. The test is then reviewed with students and coaches help work on strengths and deficiencies.
"We always want to do better and we are continually looking at ways we can improve our scores," Bowen said.