Return to accredited status elusive for Kansas City schools

Return to accredited status elusive for Kansas City schools

(Mo.) Kansas City Public Schools, which has struggled with poor test scores and been under state oversight since 2011, could regain full accreditation in the spring assuming student performance continues to trend upward.

That outcome is by no means guaranteed, and perhaps not even likely, given the set of unforeseen circumstances faced by administrators and teachers serving the estimated enrollment of 21,000 students.

The biggest challenge is getting results back from testing conducted last spring. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has said they hope to have the scores available by February—a date too late in the school year to make meaningful adjustments before the next round of testing begins.

Kansas City School Superintendent Mark Bedell is not optimistic.

“It’s pretty simple,” Bedell told the Kansas City Star. “Data is very critical because it helps inform your practice. It informs you if your curriculum is working ... what initiatives you should continue with and which ones you should move away from to get the highest amount of student academic achievement.”

The district is the 12th largest in the state but also draws from one of Missouri’s lowest-income communities. One hundred percent of the enrollment qualify for the federal free meal program. Economic uncertainty also causes more than 40 percent of the district’s students to change schools sometime during the academic year

Performance on most academic indicators lag well behind state averages. Only about 30 percent of Kansas City Schools’ third graders are proficient in reading, compared to the state average of over 60 percent. Just 22 percent of the district’s seventh graders met proficiency in math last year while the statewide average was double that number.

Kansas City’s graduation rate last year was 72 percent, compared to 89 percent statewide.

Despite these challenges, the district has made significant strides in recent years. In 2016, for the first time in decades, the district’s overall performance score hit the state standard for full accreditation.

Although the district took a step back last year, the president of the state board said this week that he would be supportive of restoring the district to full accreditation, if the scores bounce back.

“Last year they had the points, and this year what we looked at it and thought can you sustain it for two years in a row?” said Charlie Shields on a local radio show. “That’s my hope, when we get those scores back and figure out where they’re at, we can move them to accreditation.”

The delay in getting the test results back to the district has been tied to the time it has taken the education department to set the proficiency standards, or ‘cut scores.’

But it could also be argued that legislative leaders are equally to blame for a politically inspired repudiation of the Common Core State Standards in 2014, which required the adoption of a new set of curriculum standards, new tests and new cut scores.

The state has actually revised student assessments four times in the past five years, according to the Star.

“Ultimately, all this adds to the already heavy load for the district, which desperately wants to rejoin the club of fully accredited school districts,” the paper said in a recent editorial. “The lesson here: Mark Bedell and district teachers and administrators can only do so much. Delays in the delivery of test scores don’t serve them well.”

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