State audit: St. Louis public schools still dealing with cheating probe

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by Associated Press

KMOV.com

Posted on September 4, 2013 at 6:07 AM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 5:04 AM

ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Public Schools continues to grapple with standardized testing oversight after a cheating probe at several elementary schools, according to a state audit released Wednesday.

State Auditor Tom Schweich came to the city Wednesday morning to release a report that examined school finances, educational programs, purchasing policies and more. Superintendent Kelvin Adams was among those expected to attend the auditor’s news conference.

The 35-page state audit noted that St. Louis Public Schools hired seven outside test monitors to keep tabs on the Missouri Assessment Program in 2012 -- a move exceeding state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education standards. Still, it didn’t receive the required number of reports from its contractors, or district monitors, at 15 schools.

Click here to read the complete audit.

Auditors determined in June 2012 that 100 reports from 30 different schools were missing. Three schools didn’t have a single report submitted, while two of the seven independent monitors paid $500 by the school failed to submit a single form. The extra efforts came after teachers at Herzog Middle School complained to Adams in 2011 that school staff had interfered with the testing process. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch previously reported that the district cleared two other schools where testing fraud was suspected, attributing the complaints to “disgruntled employees.”

“Student test score analysis is necessary to provide additional assurance of the propriety of the testing process, by identifying schools with unusual test score fluctuations in need of investigation and/or future monitoring,” the audit found.

The school system responded that the outside reviews were only meant to “supplement, not supplant” its regular efforts.

State auditors also found that the district’s Special Administrative Board failed to publicly report decisions from closed meetings as Missouri law requires, including the sale of school buildings. At other times, the appointed board that oversees the school system after the state stripped its accreditation in 2007 made decisions in private that should have taken place in the open, from budget talks to legislative strategy sessions.

The report also noted an absence of competitive bids—or sufficient justification for using sole-source vendors—on a number of costly contracts, including the one that pays more than $23 million annually for school bus transportation.

The district spent nearly $3 million on legal fees in fiscal year 2012 and more than $100,000 for lobbyists during those same 12 months.

In its response, the school system said it is revising its purchasing policy to “provide clarity relative to the appropriate parameters for the competitive bid process.” Separately, the district is developing a new policy “specific to professional services.”

On student promotion, the state noted an internal district review which found that all but two of 749 third- and fourth-graders identified as at-risk for having reading levels at least one grade below their level were nonetheless advanced to the next grade, including 375 students who didn’t attend summer school.

In its written response, the district said it “has been diligent in recommending the development of reading improvement plans and ensuring that other targeted interventions are put in place at every school for students not reading at the required level.”

 

The state’s review of the city school system’s finances cautioned that a $40.2 million payment from Missouri to settle school desegregation lawsuits will lapse in June 2014, potentially exposing the district to “significant cuts.” The district responded that it may seek city voter approval for a property tax increase or bond issue, as well as possible job cuts.

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