State strips accreditation for Niangua School District

Friday, June 21, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- State education officials stripped the accreditation of the rural Niangua School District on Thursday because of poor student test scores.

The southern Missouri district is the only one of the state's 524 school systems now lacking accreditation and will have two years to improve or face a potential state takeover.

The distinction also means that students may transfer to neighboring school systems, with the Niangua district forced to pick up the cost.

Located in Webster County, Niangua has an elementary and high school with 47 certified staff and 332 students.

The state Board of Education revoked Niangua's accreditation with only brief discussion and as part of a single motion determining the status of two dozen school districts.

"The district has known for months that this was coming," said state education commissioner Kent King.

The Niangua School Board was to meet Thursday night to discuss its options. A secretary for superintendent Don Peebles said earlier Thursday that he had no comment. A community meeting is scheduled for July 9 to discuss the district's future.

"Our kids, they really got scared when they thought we'd lose our accreditation," local school board president Joyce Dill told the Springfield News-Leader. "If we have enough people who are positive, we can pull through this."

Failed five tests

Niangua students failed all of five standardized testing criteria used in state accreditation. For example, just 4 percent of seventh-graders scored at a proficient level in reading on the 2001 Missouri Assessment Program tests. Less than 11 percent of third-grade readers were proficient, which is the highest of the state's scoring categories.

Test results for 2002 will not be known until later this summer and did not play into the accreditation decision.

The district, although its academic performance was not strong, still received full accreditation when the state last reviewed it during the 1996-1997 school year. Since then, the state has adopted new standardized tests and accreditation criteria.

"It would seem to me that we're looking at some curriculum issues that they need to align with the Missouri Assessment Program and they might be more successful," said Jack Brumley, an instruction supervisor for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Niangua school officials already have offered more training for staff and extra help for struggling students. There also is talk of asking voters to approve a tax increase, partly to raise salaries and improve the recruitment and retention of teachers. The elementary school has been plagued by high teacher turnover, Dill said. Plus high school principal Michael Soetaert left earlier this school year and elementary principal Brenda Noe left at the end of the year.

The Niangua district was the second to lose accreditation because of poor academic performance. The Kansas City School District, which had been unaccredited, regained its provisional accreditation earlier this year.

The state has 31 school systems with provisional accreditation. Added to that list Thursday were the Hume School District in western Missouri and the Wheaton School District in southwest Missouri. Regaining full accreditation on Thursday were school districts in Caruthersville, Crawford County and Pierce City. All had been provisionally accredited.

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