St. Louis schools improve; not enough for full accreditation

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis schools are improving, but the state's largest district isn't ready to be restored to full accreditation, Missouri State Board of Education members said Tuesday.

St. Louis Public Schools have been provisionally accredited since 2007 due to low graduation rates, poor test scores and other factors. A special state-appointed three-member board has overseen its operations since then.

Performance has been better especially since Kelvin Adams took over as superintendent of the 27,000-student district in 2008. The state Board of Education in December acknowledged improvements but voted to keep the district provisionally accredited.

The district asked the board to reconsider, but no new vote was taken Tuesday during a meeting in Jefferson City.

"I think they've done some great things," said Chris Neale, assistant education commissioner. Board member Michael Jones said the board simply needs to see "sustained level of performance" before restoring full accreditation.

Last year was the first time since 2000 that St. Louis Public Schools scored high enough on a rating system to land in the accredited range. It was also the second-straight year the district has posted some of the highest gains in the state.

Under the state's accreditation system, districts must earn at least 70 percent of overall points to be considered for full accreditation. St. Louis earned 24.6 percent of available points in 2013, but that rose to 76.1 percent by 2015.

Messages seeking comment from St. Louis district officials were not returned.

The board also deferred until June a decision on whether to upgrade accreditation of another troubled district, Riverview Gardens in suburban St. Louis.

Riverview Gardens and the nearby Normandy School District, both in St. Louis County, are the only fully unaccredited districts in Missouri. As a result, students in those districts are free to transfer — at the districts' expense — to better-performing districts elsewhere in the St. Louis area, and hundreds do.

Riverview Gardens Superintendent Scott Spurgeon told the board that the district will spend $25 million on transfers by the end of this school year.

Test scores are up, finances stabilizing and other factors suggest accreditation should be restored, said Spurgeon, who took over the district in 2013.

"We've shown some tremendous improvement across the board," Spurgeon said. "Over the last couple of years we've certainly changed the perception of where we were three years ago."

State officials will perform further evaluation in the coming months. "I feel like this evaluation will give us an accurate picture of the district," Neale said.

If provisional accreditation is granted, state law will no longer require the district to pay tuition of transfer students. Neale said state officials are hopeful for a "cooperative approach" between Riverview Gardens and the districts where students have transferred.

Normandy has also seen improvement in test scores, but not enough for the state to consider upgrading that district to provisional accreditation.

Because the St. Louis district is provisionally accredited, rather than unaccredited, it is not subject to the transfer law.

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