The Chillicothe R-2 School District is accredited under the perimeters of the new Annual Performance Report. They are 1.4 percentage points away from "Distinction in Performance." We learned that on Tuesday ("Would R-2 be accredited under new state system?"). Testing scores in the core areas of Mathematics, English, Science, and Social Studies, paired with attendance rates, graduation rates, and career placement numbers, leave R-2 with some wiggle room in making up that ground in the near future. That was the main point of Wednesday's article ("R-2 accreditation, Part 2: 14/14 vs. 88.6 percent").

So, how exactly does R-2's current administration plan on bringing themselves into, and keeping themselves in, the 90-percent-plus "Distinction" range?

In a word: Technology.

"We will be doing more [electronic] testing at our... schools in the years to come," said Superintendent Dr. Roger Barnes. "It will all be computer-generated. It is very important... that we teach students to test using technology."

Barnes said that there will be additional focus placed, technology-wise, not only upon teaching students to use technology, but on how to teach students with it.

"We have to stay up with the times," Barnes said. "That part is not going away.

"Keyboarding skills may be something we have to improve on," he added, noting that "speed and accuracy" were major points of emphasis.

"It's not just so much the technology integration, either," Barnes said. "It's also a requirement upon our district. [The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is] not giving us any other choice. We'll be forced at times to upgrade our technology [because of] this."

He explained that the district would, at certain points, have to "buy more bandwidth" and "more actual physical pieces" of technological equipment to meet these new standards. R-2's system, at this point, he said, is "pretty much up to date."

"You have to make sure your system is up and operating properly," Barnes said. "It's not [DESE's] fault if you have viruses or if your firewalls aren't up to date. That's your fault.

"The [online] tests are not set up to test students 'A' through 'M,' [for example]," Barnes said. "If this [specific time] is our testing window, that's [the only time] when our students will be testing."

Because of this, a properly-working test system must be in place.

Testing at Chillicothe High School will remain as EOCs, or end-of-course examinations, Barnes said; however, there will be more of them.

"In the near future" Barnes said, elementary MAP (Missouri Assessment Program) testing will be replaced by what is known as "Missouri Smarter Balanced Assessments." These tests are more "inquiry-based" than the current performance assessments.

"They make the students keep asking 'why?'" Barnes said. "We've been told that you'll see some short-answer and multiple choice questions [like the current MAP tests], but the Smarter Balanced Assessments will also require students to provide a deeper explanations of what they're being asked.

"Currently, our MAP testing now is paper and pencil," Barnes said. "They will be moving to Internet."

"The other change is that we currently have Missouri Performance Standards," Barnes said. "They're moving to Next Generation Common Core Standards (CCS)."

Per the DESE's website: "The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The standards for English-language arts and mathematics, which were released June 2, 2010, were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators and experts.

"The standards:

• Are aligned with college and work expectations

• Are clear, understandable and consistent

• Include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills

• Build upon strengths and lessons of current state standards

• Are informed by other top performing countries so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society

• [And] are evidence-based."

"That will be recognized on a national level — that's more of a national movement," Barnes said. "They're building more rigor into [our] system, and challenging [our] students more.

"The state's goal is for us to be ranked number 10 in student assessments by 2020," Barnes reminded.

That is evidenced by DESE's "Top 10 by '20" program, which was mentioned slightly, earlier on in this series. It is evidenced by their change in the weight given to testing scores for districts seeking accreditation — by the revamping of their Annual Performance Report criterion, in general. And, it is evidenced by their move toward advanced technological learning in both the classrooms, and behind teachers' desks. In each one of these ways, the state of Missouri is looking to get better, and to be better, through their students, staff, and administrations.

"[But] it makes our goal of reaching 'Distinction in Performance' [just that much] harder to reach," said Barnes.