Which school should my child go to? It’s a question every St. Louis-area parent has likely asked themselves. The St. Louis school guide from the Post-Dispatch gives you the tools and information you need to make an informed decision about your child’s education.
As of Feb. 17, 2020, our school guide has been updated with the most recent available data, which reflects the 2018-2019 school year.
What's in the school guide?
Missouri releases many indicators of school performance — so many that reaching any conclusion can be difficult. No single measure, or even a combination of measures, can declare one school superior to another.
Determining school quality isn’t easy. The St. Louis school guide seeks to simplify the process as much as possible, and help you navigate the numbers by putting the state’s key measures of performance in one place, sortable by school and district.
Standardized exam scores, or Missouri Assessment Program tests, are the foundation of the St. Louis school guide. Students at public schools take MAP tests each spring and results are reported by the fall. The tests cover a range of topics. The state places the greatest weight on reading and math performance.
In recent years, Missouri sought to broaden what’s included in measuring school performance. The state now considers graduation rates, attendance, and college and career readiness in addition to MAP scores.
All of these indicators now form the basis of the Annual Performance Report, which rates school districts and individual schools on a scale of 1% to 100%. The APR score helps determine whether school districts maintain state accreditation.
APR score problems
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) did not calculate APR scores for 2019 for any schools or districts statewide. APR scores are calculated using a variety of indicators, such as test scores and attendance rates. DESE told the Post-Dispatch that the 2019 APR scores wouldn't have been meaningful because of changes to several of these indicators in recent years. For example, in the 2018-2019 school year, a social studies field test was given, according to DESE, and scores were therefore not released for that subject. DESE did release summary scores for each APR indicator on its data portal.
This is the third straight year that a significant number of schools will not have APR scores. DESE did not calculate APR scores for 2018 for any school statewide because they employed new English and math assessments, and there were no science results. For 2017, DESE did not calculate APR scores for high schools or many middle schools after it found comparability issues in the design of the Algebra I and English II tests.
State accreditation is a baseline measure of adequacy. In addition to APRs, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education considers Comprehensive School Improvement Plan Goals, previous department Missouri School Improvement Plan findings, financial status, leadership stability, pre-kindergarten programs and superintendent certification when determining accreditation.
Individual school APR scores are for informational purposes, and do not factor in to district accreditation decisions.
Accreditation is broken down as follows:
- 70% or above, fully accredited
- 50% to 69.9%, provisionally accredited
- 49.9% or below, unaccredited range
If you notice any mistakes or want to offer suggestions to improve our St. Louis school guide, please email Janelle O’Dea, the Post-Dispatch's data reporter, at firstname.lastname@example.org
The St. Louis school guide is just one tool for gauging quality. It doesn’t indicate whether schools are lacking in resources such as textbooks or technology, or whether they offer a wide array of honors and college-prep courses.
Deciding whether a school is right for your child is about more than data.
No school guide is a substitute for visiting schools, meeting with teachers and experiencing classrooms firsthand. Find school contact information to set up a meeting, and you can compare schools by searching the guide for a school and clicking the “compare to another school” button.
Start early: Plan to start at least a year early. If you are interested in a magnet school in St. Louis city, know that some are more selective. For gifted magnet schools, your child must score in the 95th percentile on IQ and academic evaluations. School tours for prospective parents typically are planned for September. Private schools hold open houses in the fall, with application deadlines usually in the winter or early spring. Catholic elementary schools invite parents and students to tour on a Sunday afternoon in January.
Stay organized: An Excel file or binder makes it easier to track and go back to information on different schools. When you visit schools, write down your immediate likes and dislikes right after visiting a school so you won’t forget. Keep track of when you visited and who you met, dates to remember for the admissions process and questions you still need to have answered.
Prioritize: What factors mean the most for you in a school? Location? The size of the school? Our St. Louis school guide goes beyond the test scores and lets you compare teacher salaries, student-teacher ratios, graduation rates and more.
Keep things in perspective: Remember that continued parental support at home is more important than small differences between school performance. You play perhaps the most important role in your child’s academic success.
Conventional public schools: The vast majority of public schools in the region fit into this category. Think of these as your typical neighborhood schools, supported by local, state and federal tax dollars. Students attend based on their address, though in some cases school districts — perhaps most specifically St. Louis Public Schools — offer flexibility for students to enroll outside of an attendance boundary.
Magnet schools: St. Louis Public Schools operates more than two dozen of these specialized public schools. Like conventional public schools, they are tuition free and tax supported. But unlike neighborhood schools, they draw in students from across the district. In addition, non-African Americans from suburbs outside the city can enroll under the Voluntary Desegregation Program (The city also operates "choice schools" which we label as magnets but are not part of the desegregation program). Magnets often specialize their curriculum. Many are accelerated and require students to meet certain academic standards.
Charter schools: These schools are also public schools, tuition-free and supported by tax funding. But they are distinct in that they are independent from the school system, operated by independent boards. Missouri currently limits the schools to St. Louis and Kansas City. Enrollment is open to St. Louis city students, with lotteries held if the number of applications are greater than available slots.
Alternative schools: These schools are geared toward at-risk students with behavioral challenges whose needs might not be met in traditional schools.
Technical schools: These are vocational schools that teach skills related to a specific career.
Private schools: The St. Louis School Guide does not include private, parochial or home schools, which are not required to report data to the state like public schools are.
In many instances, data is suppressed by the state when five or fewer students are included in a particular figure. This can create cases in which test scores are unavailable for smaller schools or districts. This can also make it challenging to provide a precise breakdown of a school's demographics if there are only a handful of students in a designated racial or ethnic group. In such cases, we add the uncounted percentage of students to the category of "Other."
Because of changes in the annual tests administered by the state, the scores cannot be compared year-over-year. Therefore, we only provide the share of students testing at proficient or above for the most recent year for which data is available.
APR: Although only districts are assigned an accreditation status, both districts and schools are assessed each year through Missouri's Annual Performance Report, which rates school districts, and also individual schools, on a scale of 1% to 100%. That number helps determine whether school districts maintain their state accreditation. Districts that receive scores of at least 70% are considered to be in the fully accredited range. Districts with scores between 50% and 69.9% fall in the provisionally accredited range, and districts with scores below that fall in the unaccredited range.
MAP: The Missouri Assessment Program is the standardized testing program the state uses to assess student progress in public schools. Students are tested in math, English, science and social studies. For all schools and districts, we highlight the percentage of students who, on a given subject, test at a level that is considered proficient or advanced.
Free / reduced-price lunch: Students who live in families with incomes below certain levels qualify to receive free or reduced-price lunches from their schools. This is often used as a marker of poverty in education. Some school districts offer free/reduced-price lunch to all students, and thus don't track the share of students who qualify.
Graduation rate: The percentage of students who graduate within four years.
Graduation rate: The percentage of the prior year's graduates who are attending a two- or four-year college.
Proficiency: The share of students at a district or school who score at a level considered "proficient" or "advanced" for a particular subject on state exams.
Former Post-Dispatch reporters Walker Moskop and Kristen Taketa helped with development and reporting. Former editors Jean Buchanan and Matt Franck supervised the project.