Did Kansas City schools get accredited? New state report leaves that up in the air

Missouri’s education department on Thursday released its annual report cards measuring how schools perform, and the overall grade is: incomplete.

In fact, Kansas City Public Schools and Hickman Mills still don’t know if they scored well enough on the Annual Performance Report to regain full state accreditation.

They must wait until next month, when the results for how students performed in science are released.

Still, KCPS Superintendent Mark Bedell said he remains optimistic.

“It looks promising,” Bedell said, likening the district’s movement toward accreditation to basketball. “Right now, we have the ball bouncing on the rim,” he said. “We have to wait and see if it goes in.”

Part of the problem is Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released this year’s APR reports in a completely new format. Gone is the easy to interpret point system for each of the areas measured.

Instead, a spreadsheet of color charts and scales describes performance in levels: “floor,” meaning below expectations, based on a statistical formula; “approaching,” meaning schools are close to the expected mark; “on track,” meaning the schools hit the mark; and “exceeding,” which means just that.

The new format comes with a guide, but it’s 77 pages long.

“We understand why DESE made these changes,” said Marissa Cleaver-Wamble, spokeswoman for the Hickman Mills district. “It is so districts will focus on the data rather than the scores.” Still, she said, Superintendent Yolanda Cargile is requesting that the department calculate the district’s points and percentages so officials can better gauge progress toward becoming fully accredited.

Hickman Mills school leaders said the initial data does show they are making progress. In four-year graduation rate, the district is “exceeding,” and it is approaching state targets for attendance. But it has to continue increasing test scores in all academic areas. In math and English the district landed at floor level.

Although the report does not focus on numbers, the state still keeps points for each performance area measured, and districts still have to claim at least 70% of those points to land in accreditation range.

Last year, Hickman Mills earned a 77%, putting it on track to regain full accreditation status as long as it stayed above 70% for a second consecutive year. Kansas City schools are in the same boat.

A year ago KCPS celebrated with the community after getting an 82.9% score, or 99.5 points out of a possible 120, its highest marks ever on the annual performance review.

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Last year, then-Kansas City school board president Melissa Robinson and Superintendent Mark Bedell celebrated the district’s highest score ever on the state’s annual performance report. Star file photo

Academic performance is weighted heavily, but the state report also measures such areas as graduation rates, career and college readiness, and student attendance.

For several years KCPS has failed to meet the state standard on attendance, which requires 90% of students be in school 90% of the time. Bedell said this year the attendance rate is below 80%, but “we have hired someone to focus on attendance rate, and it’s higher this year than last year,” he said. The graduation rate, at 71.6%, is below the state average but up from where it was last year at 70.9%.

Bedell says that for the first time APR puts more focus on growth, or how well a district moves students up the achievement ladder. That’s a good thing for KCPS. It means the district is getting credit, he said, for moving its lowest performing students even one level up.

“What we are happy about is academic growth,” Bedell said. “I went all in on academics, and this is the reason we are not regressing. What we felt was that if we could improve academic performance we could get accreditation.”

When measuring whether students are making achievement gains over time, KCPS is exceeding in English and on track for math.

“We are growing faster than the state predicted,” Bedell said. While KCPS still lags behind state performance averages, “we are closing the gap.”

Many of the suburban districts, including Lee’s Summit and Blue Springs, fared well academically and either landed on track or exceeding in the core subject areas.

This year’s reports don’t include data for social studies because the state was piloting a new test. Last year there was no test data for science for the same reason.

Both Hickman Mills and KCPS officials have said that while the performance review is critical to accreditation status, there are other areas not measured, such as more early-childhood opportunities, that contribute to the health of the district.

“Accreditation is a mile marker but not the ending point,” said Ray Weikal, KCPS spokesman. “The end point is producing graduates who are good citizens and prepared to succeed in life, in college and career.”

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Mará has written on all things education for The Star for 20 years, including issues of school safety, teen suicide, universal pre-K programs, college costs, campus protests and university branding.