When the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) says 99 percent of districts are fully accredited and doing just fine, it may seem like almost every student in Missouri is receiving a good education. However, accreditation is not entirely reflective of academic performance and it gives little information about how schools are performing. Transparent school accountability would reveal where Missouri schools are failing students.
The current Missouri School Improvement Plan’s (MSIP) accreditation system has a confusing scoring method that is far too generous to schools. As a result, zero districts were unaccredited and only 6 were provisionally accredited in 2018. Additionally, accreditation is only given at the district level and not to individual schools, so low-performing schools might get a free pass based on their district’s accreditation.
Near full accreditation is difficult to reconcile with the fact that in 2018, 25 districts had less than one-quarter of eighth graders score proficient or advanced in English language arts on the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) exam, yet only 3 of those districts were provisionally accredited. 117 districts had less than one-quarter of eighth graders score proficient or advanced in math and only 4 of them were provisionally accredited. Other districts have similar or lower MAP performance levels than the provisionally accredited districts, but still receive full accreditation.
Other states have adopted more informative school grading systems. Florida has been a pioneer in school grading, using an A–F scale that grades each school and district since 1999. Florida recently announced that teachers can receive a one-time bonus for working in schools that receive Title I funds and receive a grade of D or F. This is a great example of the importance of a clear accountability system for schools and districts. Florida’s grading system was used to identify low-performing schools, and the state then implemented a policy to try and help students in those schools. A teacher incentive program won’t cure everything that ails schools in Florida, but it’s a step in the right direction that is only possible because of a quality accountability system.
A transparent grading system in Missouri could spur demand for options like charter schools or education savings accounts. But as long as 99 percent of school districts continue to receive full accreditation and parents have few ways to find important school information, low-performing schools will fly under the radar and educational choice may never appear in Missouri.