After years of being accredited with distinction, Union R-XI administrators said they are disappointed with the district’s Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP) 5 score.
The district received a score of 75.7 under the new MSIP 5 grading system.
“We’ve been distinction in performance all the way up to here,” Superintendent Steve Bryant said. “There is no doubt we are not satisfied with our score.”
The 2012-13 school year was the first year the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has implemented the new system, which evaluates each district on data such as standardized test scores, attendance, graduation rates, career and college readiness and even where students go after graduation.
Under MSIP 5, districts can earn nine, 12 or 16 points in each category, both in the main student population or in subgroups, such as special education students or students who receive free and reduced lunches.
But each of these scores are “hit or miss,” Assistant Superintendent Aaron Jones said.
“For example, if you score a 15, then you drop down to 12,” he said.
Under the previous system, MSIP used a 14-point scale.
“You had 14 categories and each was either met, or not met,” Bryant said. “If you met 13 out of 14 of those categories with ‘mets’ being made in all of the performance categories, then you were (accredited with) distinction. We did that for 12 out of 13 years or so.
“In this transition, it’s different. We’re not casting blame on the system or making excuses, but we’re looking at the factors that got us here and making those corrections.”
In academics, the district earned its highest points in science, scoring a 16 overall in the general population of students, and three out of a possible four points in the subgroup category.
English language arts came in second with 12 points earned in the general student population and three in the subgroup category.
Points can be earned for showing a certain percentage of growth in any given category, but Jones said since the district has been consistent on standardized test scores for the past two years, the district didn’t earn growth points in academics. Instead, it received “status” points, which means the district was judged on actual test scores only.
However, Jones said the standardized test scores are on target for the Top Ten by 2020, DESE’s new strategic plan that uses a series of goals for each year with a planned outcome of being one of the top 10 states for education by the year 2020.
“We will continue to make adjustments with our curriculum to make it more rigorous,” Jones said. “In terms of comparing our kids with other kids in the state of Missouri, we’re doing a better job of making sure our kids are competing across the whole global scale.”
Despite the disappointment with the overall rating, Jones said the district is already implementing strategies to improve its scores.
“Principals will be working with staff at where we didn’t make points and shoring that up before next spring,” he said. “We want to continue to see improvement so we can get the growth points, and we want to make status (points) to hit those targets.”
The new MSIP standards are not necessarily tougher, Bryant said, but they are different.
“It’s an opportunity to align our district goals and give us targets,” he said.
“The areas that have changed the most have been in the graduation rate and attendance,” Bryant said.
Attendance used to be based on the district’s average daily attendance, Bryant said.
“Each kid was represented separately, he said. “If your district had 90 percent attendance that’s what it went by, whereas now 90 percent of your population has to be above 90 percent of attendance. For example, you could have one kid who misses every day, but if the rest of them are there, you’re OK.”
For the 2012-13 school year, attendance was 87.7 percent of students were at 90 percent of attendance.
“We did pretty well, but that’s an area where we can improve,” Jones said.
Jones said the district as a whole has always carried an average daily attendance between 93 to 95 percent, but with the MSIP 5 standards, Union will have to pay watchful attention in some areas of attendance, especially with students who might transfer out of district without notification.
The district in the past has had students who transferred, but didn’t notify the district for a week.
“The student may have left, but is still on the books as absent,” he said. “That could be 10 days of absences and once you get to 17 days, (that student) is under the 90 percent (attendance rate).”
Graduation rate is now a rolling average, which means the average may not show up as accurate in the same year, Jones said.
For example, if a student was supposed to graduate in 2012, but graduates in 2013, that student would still be counted as part of the 2012 class, but it wouldn’t reflect on the 2012 records until the student actually graduates.
“It takes time for those numbers to come in.,” Jones said. “With it being a rolling average, those numbers could take awhile to get, but keeping kids in school could help change those numbers.
There are also points that can be earned for students who go on to higher education or technical school and are working in their field of study after graduation, Jones said
“That can be difficult to track, he said. “They may be successful in a field that would help our score, but if we are unable to contact them, we don’t get credit for that.”
The district is looking at better ways to track students after graduation.
“We do follow ups a year later, but we are looking for better ways to follow up with those kids,” Jones said. “That’s an area where you could pick up growth points or status points.”
College, Career Readiness
College career readiness was focused on heavily last year and the district did make some progress in that area, said Justin Tarte, director of curriculum and instruction.
“More secondary students are taking the ACT and we are increasing exposure to (advanced placement) exams,” he said. “We are excited about seeing that upward trend.”
Students who take AP courses and exams and get qualifying scores get college credit, which Tarte said will save them money because AP is less expensive than college tuition.
Bryant said improving college and career readiness also has helped the district develop a closer working relationship with East Central College.
“We are communicating even more and we’re expanding those dual credit courses in other areas,” he said. “I applaud ECC President (Jon) Bauer and his group for all their help.”
Success Is Not Just a Number
Bryant said there are many positive things within the Union district that can’t be measured by state assessment programs.
“There are a lot of other factors, such as the character of our kids and the class they display, whether it’s on the athletic field on in the arts programs,” he said. “Yes, we have a lot of disappointment on the scores as far as the assessment, but let’s not lose sight of the other successes.”