Missouri board of education pushes new accreditation bill

Sunday, February 19, 2012

In a move that member J. Michael Ponder called "unprecedented," members of Missouri's state board of education are leading meetings throughout the state to foster support for legislation that could change how unaccredited school districts are governed.

Ponder, a Cape Girardeau lawyer who has been a member of the state board since 2009, said HB 1174, approved by the House Education Committee on Feb.1 and sponsored by Mike Lair, R-Chillicothe, is "a rare piece of legislation that just makes sense." A similar bill sponsored by Senate Education Committee chairman David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, was discussed in a Senate hearing Wednesday.

Normally, Ponder said, the board doesn't get very involved in pushing for support on legislative matters. But this time, he said, there seems to be a possibility of affecting how quickly failing school districts are turned around.

Changes

Passage of the legislation would result in three changes to state law by allowing the board to replace an unaccredited district's school board with one appointed by the state or other governing structure; create a public comment method; and determine the time frame in which a school district must improve enough to regain accreditation or be taken under state control. Currently, state law dictates that districts that lose accreditation are allowed two years to improve before the state intervenes. The legislation also includes an emergency clause, meaning changes could happen immediately after a signature from the governor.

Ponder and state board president Peter Herschend encouraged support of the legislation as written from local school administrators and community leaders, and went over its components during a Feb. 9 meeting at Dalhousie in Cape Girardeau. School officials from the Cape Girardeau, Jackson and Sikeston school districts attended.

The meeting was held for a group of "concerned citizens who believe in education," Ponder said.

Sherry Copeland, assistant superintendent of the Cape Girardeau School District, agrees with state board members that changes are needed so local districts don't one day find themselves in a situation like the Kansas City School District, which lost its accreditation in September for the second time in 11 years after meeting only three of 14 state-required standards for performance.

‘When we get there'

A former director of a regional professional development center in northwest Missouri, Copeland said changes proposed by the legislation could provide educators throughout the state with the tools to avoid losing accreditation and will get Kansas City's schools on a faster track to improvement.

"If we figure out how to help those schools, we will know what to do when we get there, and we inevitably will," Copeland said.

Members of the state board of education are appointed by the governor and are charged with accrediting school districts using the Missouri School Improvement Program. The program includes minimum standards for high school graduation, curriculum, student testing, support services and other areas of school operations, according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Annual performance reports for districts, which include the use of Missouri Assessment Program scores, are used to determine if a district can remain accredited. Of 14 standards, a district generally must meet six to be provisionally accredited and nine to be fully accredited.

Local districts

In 2011, 12 of 18 districts in the Southeast Missourian's coverage area met 13 or more standards. The Cape Girardeau School District met 12, Chaffee and Delta school districts met 11, Sikeston met 10 and Scott County Central met nine.

Meeting that many standards this year will become increasingly difficult for districts, Copeland said, in part because of proficiency targets set in communication arts and math for MAP tests. This year's targets call for over 80 percent of students to test proficient or advanced in both areas.

"That alone will throw more and more districts into unaccreditation," Copeland said.

Meeting proficiency targets for MAP tests is also required by the No Child Left Behind Act. The state is crafting a proposal in hopes of being granted a waiver from some of the acts' requirements.

Another hurdle for some school districts is a high rate of student mobility, or students transferring in and out of districts, Copeland said. According to data from the Cape Girardeau School District, the district has a high rate of mobility when compared with others of similar size throughout the state. Districts don't always follow instructional curriculum at the same rate, so students moving around constantly can become lost in transition, Copeland said, resulting in a negative effect on their own and a district's overall academic achievement.

In addition, if a nearby district were to become unaccredited, other districts could face a wave of transfer students, Copeland said.

State law requires unaccredited districts to pay tuition and transportation to send students living within their boundaries to accredited schools in the same or an adjoining county. But that scenario hasn't worked in St. Louis and Kansas City, where accredited districts surrounding unaccredited districts have so far been keeping out students seeking to use the law to transfer while the litigation over the matter continues and the legislature debates changes to the law.

Missouri has three unaccredited districts and nine provisionally accredited districts. Hayti and Caruthersville in Southeast Missouri are among the provisionally accredited districts.

Ponder said he has seen a statewide outpouring of support for the legislation to change accreditation laws, but both he and Copeland said they were concerned what other legislation could cling on as the bills make their way through the legislature.

"I want to see this go through in its purest form," Copeland said.

House Speaker Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, previously said when discussing legislation on changes to accreditation and related transfer student rules that any plan to address those issues should include measures that have had difficulty finding legislative success over the years, the Kansas City Star reported in late January. Those would include expansion of charter schools, elimination of teacher tenure, teacher pay based on student achievement and an offer of tax-credit vouchers to parents who want to send children to private schools.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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