In Missouri, it can be big news when a school district earns (or fails to earn) accreditation. Judging by the media coverage back in January, when the Saint Louis school district was fully accredited for the first time since 2007, the accreditation of a district sometimes seems to serve as a shorthand for the quality of the education that students in the district receive: An unaccredited school district is failing; an accredited district has at least crossed some threshold of adequacy.
But as usual, a closer look calls such clear distinctions into question. In her EducationNext article on accreditation and its possible role under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Jennifer Oldham contacted the Show-Me Institute’s Emily Stahly for a better understanding of what the reinstatement of accredited status means for Saint Louis. Unfortunately, as Emily wrote back in January, in this case the news is hardly cause for celebration. The district was accredited even though most students scored below the “proficient” level in both math and English on standardized tests, because “higher scores in the attendance and graduation-rate categories made up for poor results in academic achievement.”
Oldham’s article examines accreditation from several angles, including the effect that loss of accreditation can have on districts and communities and also the incentives that accrediting agencies face. The entire article is worth reading, and offers some ideas to consider as Missouri adapts to the ESSA standards for accountability.