State report: Normandy district still declining

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by HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH

AP

Posted on August 29, 2014 at 3:51 PM

Updated Friday, Aug 29 at 7:20 PM

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The Normandy school district saw its academic performance drop while the Riverview Gardens district made gains during a tumultuous school year that saw hundreds of students from the struggling St. Louis County districts transfer, state data shows.

The performance reports, which the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released Friday, use test scores and other data to evaluate districts, with the results used to help make accreditation decisions.

Under the system, districts must earn 50 percent of overall points or face the risk of becoming unaccredited, which carries a strict penalty: Missouri law requires districts lacking accreditation to pay the costs for students who wish to transfer to other nearby school districts. More than 2,000 students transferred out of Normandy and Riverview Gardens this past school year.

The performance report, the second released since the system was revamped, showed Normandy received just 7.1 percent of the points possible, a drop of 3.9 percentage points from last year. No other school district fared worse, and Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said during a conference call Thursday that the state was "very troubled" by the continued decline.

Normandy was unaccredited before the state decided this summer to replace it with a state-controlled school entity. Nicastro said Friday that the state is "determined to improve instruction, curriculum and focus on the educational needs of these students." It has hired new staff, revised curriculum and provided professional development for faculty and administrators.

"We will focus on quality classroom instruction, leadership, and the use of student data to make ongoing decisions," Normandy Superintendent Ty McNichols said in a written statement. "It is critical that we reverse our academic trends and that our energy and purpose be laser-like on academic improvement."

The unaccredited Riverview Gardens district received a score of 45.4 percent, a 16.8 percentage point jump from last year.

Both districts have faced budget woes, and they were so extreme in Normandy that the state had to approve funding to ensure the district made it through the year. Nicastro said the "current transfer law is unsustainable" and that any district subject to it will eventually become insolvent.

The St. Louis district, meanwhile, received 43.2 percent of the points possible, a jump of 18.6 percentage points from last year. While the score falls in the unaccredited range, the state has said repeatedly that most districts won't see their accreditation classification change until 2015, giving the districts another year to improve.

The state, however, took action more quickly in the improving Kansas City district and allowed it to drop its unaccredited label this month. The move halted student transfers, which the district was desperate to avoid, although fewer than 20 of its 16,000 students were attempting to use that provision this coming school year. The latest performance report shows that Kansas City earned a score of 66.1 percent.

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