In the Monday, Jan. 7, 2013 edition of the Constitution-Tribune, we included an Associated Press article by Heather Hollingsworth, concerning the changes coming to the accreditation system and standards set for our state's school districts by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) in the coming years. These changes have been set in motion as part of DESE's goal to increase Missouri's rank in national education standings to top 10 levels by the year 2020.

Per the DESE website, "On the 2011 NAEP assessment, Missouri saw increased scores in mathematics and reading from the previous test (2009). Nationally, Missouri students compared most favorably in reading with fourth and eighth grade students ranking 22nd and 20th, respectively; math scores are found to be at 24th and 33rd, respectively."

Hollingsworth's article focused upon the difficulties Missouri's school districts face in keeping up with the increased standards that their State Department has set for them. Districts in St. Louis and in Kansas City, for example, which are currently struggling to maintain or even reach accreditation standards, were hampered more so by the new guidelines, per a draft report released most recently by DESE, which placed Annual Performance Report figures from the 2011-12 school year into the percentile formula to be used in the new system as a way of collecting research data, and updating districts on their progress, and on what they need to work on in preparation for the new system's full implementation in the coming years.

This got us at the C-T to wondering: if other schools are struggling (numbers-wise) with this new program, will the Chillicothe R-2 School District show signs of struggle, as well? Will they retain their accreditation? And did they do so in this most recent draft report?

An important point to make early on is that the draft report results included here are a benchmark for districts, to see where they would fall in line with the future system, doing what they are doing right now. The results are not set in stone at this point, and are, instead, more of a piece of reference data given to districts by DESE to use at their discretion.

A little background information: the Chillicothe R-2 School District has received accreditation with distinction ("Distinction in Performance") honors nine times in its history. In just the last six years, R-2 has received perfect accreditation scores five times, with the lone exception being during the 2009-10 school year, when they received a 13/14, and still earned "Distinction" honors.

"In the past, there were 14 standards [for accreditation, set by the state]," Chillicothe R-2 Superintendent Dr. Roger Barnes explained late last week. "If you met nine, you were accredited."

Per Barnes, meeting 13 or 14 of the 14 total state standards meant a district would receive "Distinction in Performance" honors (If a district met 13 of the 14 standards, they had to have met each of the student academic categories to receive the "Distinction.").

"[DESE is] going away from that," Barnes said. "There are still standards, but not in that regard. [The new system is] based more on percentages, now."

Instead of receiving a 9/14 accreditation ranking, for example, schools must now reach a 70 percent or higher on their Annual Performance Reports to remain "accredited."

The previously-mentioned St. Louis school district, for example, went from reaching provisional accreditation in 2012 (measured at six to eight out of fourteen, of which, said district received a seven) to a 22.5 percent mark in the new system, with those same numbers. Provisional accreditation is measured at between 50 and 70 percent in the new system. Any school district measured at beneath a 50 percent is listed as "unaccredited."

Kansas City (which was unaccredited even before the draft report results were presented) earned at 19.6 percent.

"[R-2] would be at 88.6 percent [in the new system]," Barnes said.
Distinction in Performance will, in the future, be given to school districts receiving at or above a 90 percent on their APR.

Back in Aug. 2012, it was announced by Barnes that the district had met 14 of the 14 standards set forth in the old system. However, because of the change in systems, there were no "Distinction" awards handed out for the 2011-12 efforts, statewide.

Those will come back into play in 2015, Barnes said, as DESE collects their data and gives districts time to get acclimated to the new system.

"At our meetings today, I told our teachers 'In my opinion, you've earned the Chillicothe Distinction in Performance Award,'" Barnes was quoted as saying, back in the C-T's Aug. 21, 2012 edition, following the accreditation announcement.

Said numbers were the same used in the draft report, which gave Chillicothe R-2 its 88.6 percent.

So, back to the original questions:

• Will Chillicothe show signs of struggle due to the APR system change? To a certain extent, it could reasonably be argued that the slight dip from "Distinction in Performance" to just "accreditation" ranking is a sign of slight struggle. It is important to note, though, that while some districts are dipping down by the equivalent of "double digits" in certification (recall the St. Louis and Kansas City examples), R-2 is but 1.4 percentage points away from retaining the highest ranking an accredited school district can obtain.

• Did they retain accreditation in the draft report? Yes, and by a wide margin (18.6 percentage points).

• And will they retain accreditation in the long-term, despite the change? All historical signs seem to point to "yes," here. A closer look at the specific scores the district received on the DESE draft report show that there are places in need of improvement, no doubt, but the district has plenty of time to work with its staff and administrators to select certain core areas upon which to focus their efforts as an educational institution.

"The standards will be tougher to meet," Barnes said. "In essence, DESE has raised the bar for us. We're almost at that 90 percent. We'll be striving to get there."

Check out Wednesday's newspaper for a more thorough breakdown of the scores received by R-2 on the aforementioned draft report, and on what exactly makes up their 88.6 percent, both good and bad. The C-T will be comparing and contrasting what items were weighted before in score compilation to what the new system will be looking for. On Thursday, we will be looking at ways in which the district administration says it will be shifting its focus to improve R-2's APR scores in the coming years.