WSJ Takes Aim at Illinois, Ignores Missouri
The Wall Street Journal recently published an editorial that expressed legitimate shock about the relationship between teacher ratings and rates of proficiency in reading and math on state assessments in Illinois.
The Journal analyzed the teacher ratings of schools in Decatur, Illinois, and found that in 2018, 99.7 percent of its teachers were rated as “excellent or proficient.” These ratings are extremely generous considering the fact that only 2 percent of Black third-grade students in Decatur could read at grade level, and only 1 percent performed at grade level in math. Additionally, only 5 percent of Decatur 11th graders could read at grade level and 4 percent were proficient in math.
While the Journal article focused on Illinois, the mismatch between educational stamps of approval and student performance is not exclusive to schools in that state. A similar jarring mismatch occurs in Missouri when looking at district accreditation and test scores. Accreditation is hard to define (due to its arbitrary nature), but I would define it as whether or not the government approves of the performance of an educational institution. Incredibly, Missouri’s Department of Secondary and Elementary Education (DESE) has granted full accreditation to 99 percent of Missouri school districts, even though rates of proficiency are dismally low in many districts.
For example, Ferguson-Florissant is fully accredited with proficiency rates of 20 percent in English and 7.6 percent in math. How can DESE approve and fully accredit this district’s performance if nine out of ten students are below grade level in math? What is the value in a grading scale if everyone gets an “A”?
As Show-Me Institute analysts have pointed out many times before, DESE’s accreditation granting has little to do with academic performance. Student performance should be the paramount benchmark for district accreditation in Missouri, and yet this has not been the case under both the Missouri School Improvement Plan (5) and the recently passed MSIP (6). MSIP 6 is built on regulatory adherence, financial status, and whether superintendents are certified. The new plan will have its first fully implemented cycle from spring 2023 to fall 2023, and academic indicators will only account for 48 percent of the total score used for granting accreditation.
District accreditation is treated as essentially a “completion assignment” in Missouri, and its perceived unimportance is exemplified by the fact that districts cannot be penalized for poor performance until 2024. Students will certainly be penalized for their performance in these schools, and it is ludicrous that adults cannot be held accountable for their errors.
Missouri may have snuck under the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page radar for now, but if the gap between reality and accountability continues to widen, it may not last forever.