August 29, 2014

Kansas City area school districts celebrate state report cards

The rising tide among area districts is breeding comfort and confidence in public schools, North Kansas City Superintendent Todd White said, adding: “There are a lot of good stories.”

When the time came Friday that school districts could announce their state report card scores, districts in celebratory moods spotlighted kids.

Kansas City Public Schools leaders surrounded themselves with Central Middle School students as they cheered the 66.1 percent score that earned back the district’s provisional accreditation.

North Kansas City Schools rolled out members of all of its high school bands in bright colors on the district football field, marching into a formation spelling out its score of 92.1 percent.

And Hickman Mills let 11-year-old Alexandria Demps theatrically recite the numbers at a news conference: how a district that barely scored in the provisional range a year ago jumped by 18.9 percentage points to hit in the fully accredited range with 70.7 percent.

“Isn’t that amazing?” Alexandria said, drawing laughter and applause as she then cooed, “Yes. Yes, it is.”

The scene is playing out much differently now in Kansas City compared to the St. Louis area, where the Normandy school district, crippled by student transfers and other stress, scored 7.1 percent. And the St. Louis Public Schools and Riverview Gardens districts, though boosting their scores, still sit at 43.2 and 45.4 percent — deep in the unaccredited level.

The rising tide among districts in the Kansas City area is breeding comfort and confidence in public schools, North Kansas City Superintendent Todd White said.

“There are a lot of good stories,” he said.

North Kansas City jumped 13.2 percentage points, getting into the 90s. It is one of the 21 out of 32 school districts in Jackson, Clay, Cass and Platte counties to score in the 90s, which could earn accreditation with distinction depending on other not-yet-determined criteria by the state.

White talked about the work that was done while watching the bands with others from the top row of the stadium.

“It took a while to put systems of support and development in place,” he said. “But we’re seeing the fruits of that labor.”

The adults watched and left it to the bands to make the official announcement — via formation.

“We wanted to let the kids do it,” White said. “Because it was their effort that did it.”

All of the districts in the area are fully accredited except for Kansas City and Hickman Mills, which are provisionally accredited.

Alexandria, however, called out the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education from the podium, telling the state to take note of Hickman Mills’ 70.7 score.

“DESE, you wanted us to show you we are learning,” she said. “And that teachers are teaching us what we are supposed to learn. I think we deserve our full accreditation status.”

Districts must achieve at least 50 percent of the possible points to be considered for provisional accreditation and 70 percent to be considered for full accreditation. Test performance accounts for half of the criteria, with other measures in college and career preparation, attendance and graduation rates.

In a conference call earlier this week with reporters, Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro noted that Hickman Mills has made significant gains. But she also noted that the department is looking for trends in positive growth.

The decision ultimately belongs to the state school board, but the department generally wants to see two to three years of sustained improvement before recommending a change in accreditation status, Nicastro said.

Kansas City had shown improvement for three years and scored in the provisional range the last two years in a row before the state gave it provisional status.

Kansas City’s percentage points earned in its annual performance reports has risen 46.5 percentage points, from a preliminary score of 19.6 percent in December 2012 to today’s 66.1.

“I contend that no urban school district anywhere in the U.S. has done what we are doing as fast as we are doing it,” Kansas City Superintendent Steve Green said.

Sustaining the scores in both Kansas City and Hickman Mills presents a challenge, as their rise has mounted in significant measure by raising students out of the lowest “below basic” category and into “basic.”

Both districts still have roughly 30 percent of their students performing at proficient or advanced in English language arts and math, below the state averages of about 53 percent.

Both superintendents said they expect to be knocking on the state’s door to get fully accredited status by 2015 or — if Alexandria were to get her way — sooner.

To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to jrobertson@kcstar.com.

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