Falling test scores could force one of KC’s oldest charter schools to close

A two-year drop in test scores is leading an area college to sever ties with one of Kansas City’s oldest charter schools.

Now the charter school, in danger of closing, is defending its record for educating some of the city’s most at-risk students.

Benjamin Banneker Charter Academy of Technology opened 18 years ago and Monday officials at the University of Central Missouri announced it will no longer sponsor the charter.

The decision to drop Banneker was made by the UCM Board of Governors at a meeting Friday where the board agreed to extend charter school contracts for Scuola Vita Nuova and Gordon Parks Elementary schools, both also in Kansas City.

A statement from the university said, “Deficiencies that impair a quality education for Benjamin Banneker’s students were cited in the board’s decision” to let the charter’s sponsorship contract expire next June 30.

The eight-month time frame was set so a university transition team could help students and their families pursue education elsewhere. It will also allow the school’s 50 or so faculty members to pursue other jobs.

Parents said Tuesday after hearing about the university’s decision they don’t want the school closed.

“I feel really bad hearing about this,” said Christiana Bormah whose 11-year-old grandson is in the 6th grade at Banneker. “I’m happy with this school.”

Bormah said she moved her grandson out of a Kansas City private school where he was being bullied and his grades had dropped from A’s to failing.

“They worked with him here and now he’s got A’s and B’s. This is a good school. I hope they can save it.”

Banneker’s superintendent, Marian Brown, said she learned about the UCM decision at Friday’s board meeting.

“It took us by surprise,” Brown said. “We were on trajectory to continue with the university and had no idea they were going in this direction.”

Brown said Banneker’s board will look for another sponsor. Charter schools in Missouri must be sponsored by a higher education institution, public school district or the Missouri Charter Public School Commission.

Banneker, at 6401 Rockhill Road, serves 320 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. Banneker, the university said, serves “high-risk students through an active, student- and community-centered learning environment.”

Among the reasons UCM gave for ending the Banneker sponsorship was “a large amount of turnover among students and faculty,” said Jeff Murphy, UCM spokesman.

The UCM board also pointed out that the school’s Annual Performance Report and the scores on student state assessments had showed a steady downward trend since the school’s last contract renewal in 2012.

Banneker “has not achieved APR Progress points in English language arts (ELA), math, and science in 2015 and 2016, and internal projections indicate it is unlikely to achieve APR Progress points in these areas in 2017,” UCM charter school sponsorship officials said.

Brown said the school failed to score better on the annual progress reports because of low attendance. But she said that the school’s families move frequently and that high mobility affects test schools and attendance. That problem, she said, goes hand in hand when educating high-risk students.

Students who move in and out of the school, Brown said, bring down the school’s scores.

“Students who come to Banneker and stay with us are achieving,” Brown said.

Banneker’s APR was at accreditation levels — 71 percent — in 2014 and dropped to 60 percent in 2015 and at 46.9 percent in 2016.

UCM compared the charter school’s performance to schools in the Kansas City Public School District and found that Banneker has not been above the Kansas City annual performance percentage for three out of the last four years.

Last year for the first time in 30 years Kansas City schools scored at full accreditation levels in the state-issued annual report that measures progress in a number of performance areas, including how well students did on standardized tests.

Dean of the College of Education at UMC, Robert Lee, said the college takes seriously its sponsorship responsibilities, to ensure that students attending its sponsored schools are getting a quality education.

“A recommendation was made to our Board of Governors after serious deliberation and review of data demonstrating that despite sincere efforts to serve high-need students, Benjamin Banneker has not been able to meet the academic criteria that Missouri statutes have established for public charter schools as well as UCM guidelines,” Lee said.

And, UCM officials said, Banneker was unable to meet criteria outlined in a remedial plan implemented last year.

But Brown said, “We believe we have met the criteria. Benjamin Banneker met accreditation status in 2014 and 2015. We lost attendance points in 2016...”

She said if you pull out only at data for students who have remained at Banneker for several years it would show “we also met it again in 2017.”

UCM, which in 1990 became the first public university in Missouri to sponsor charter schools, sponsors eight other charters in Kansas City. The college’s board of governors on Friday renewed sponsorship for Scuola Vita Nuova, 535 Garfield, for a 10-year term, and renewed the charter agreement with Gordon Parks Elementary, 3715 Wyoming, for a five-year terms

More than 5,000 students are educated in charters sponsored by UCM.

Mará Rose Williams: 816-234-4419, @marawilliamskc