Low test scores show KC, Hickman Mills school districts falling far short of goals

Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell met with students earlier this summer at Trailwoods Elementary School.
Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell met with students earlier this summer at Trailwoods Elementary School. tljungblad@kcstar.com

Students, teachers and administrators in two long-troubled local districts have a lot of work to do if they have any hope of improving academics and attaining full accreditation.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education last week posted scores from standardized tests that students took last school year.

The results were especially disheartening for Kansas City Public Schools and the Hickman Mills School District.

The grade-level exams in math and English language arts were new tests and cannot be compared with previous year’s results. However, individual school districts’ Missouri Assessment Program scores can be compared with the state averages.

That’s where the Kansas City and Hickman Mills districts fall short. Each is provisionally accredited, and the latest test scores certainly won’t help in efforts to attain full accreditation from the state. Those numbers are expected to be released early next month.

In the Kansas City district:

▪ In English language arts, 35.2 percent of students scored proficient or advanced, compared with the statewide total of 62.9 percent.

▪ In math, 23.8 percent scored proficient or advanced compared with 48.6 percent statewide.

▪ In science, 22.8 percent were proficient or advanced compared with 52.1 percent statewide.

▪ In social studies, 44.9 percent were proficient or advanced compared with 63.3 percent statewide.

In the smaller Hickman Mills district, students scoring proficient or advanced came in at 38.3 percent in English language arts, 25 percent in math, 28 percent in science and 52.1 percent in social studies.

Officials in each district put positive spins on the numbers.

Hickman Mills Superintendent Dennis L. Carpenter said: “We are pleased by the fact that our results signify an overall culture of continuous improvement (year over year), in spite of a state assessment system that has lacked much continuity. Our teachers and school leaders continue to focus on research-based instructional strategies across content areas, pre-kindergarten through third-grade literacy, and racial equity as a means of increasing student engagement and achievement.”

He noted that math is “our Achilles Heel.” But the district will push to become “a model of effective urban education.”

A Kansas City district news release said the data show that “students made good progress in English language arts, math and social studies and that science will require ongoing attention.”

Superintendent Mark Bedell said in the release: “We ask a lot of our students, teachers, support staff and administrators every day, and these exam results are one measure of the effort they have put in. Our students are climbing upwards, and they’ve come a long way, but we have some opportunities for growth. We have a great academic plan, and I am optimistic that we can continue to make growth in these areas.”

But these upbeat assessments, while expected and forward-looking, can’t hide the facts that the test scores were still dismal.

The Kansas City district is the most closely watched urban district. It covers a large portion of the city, and civic leaders have hoped for years that it would make the kind of academic progress that could help keep and attract new residents, on the East Side as well as in the southwest corridor.

The district in recent years has been in direct competition with the city’s many charter schools. Some of their scores were also less than stellar.

But others like University Academy exceeded statewide proficiency and advanced totals. So did Academie Lafayette and Ewing Marion Kauffman School.

Kansas City area school districts that also exceeded statewide proficiency and advanced totals included Pleasant Hill, Kearney, Liberty, North Kansas City, Blue Springs, Grain Valley, Oak Grove, Lee’s Summit, North Platte County, West Platte County, Platte County R-III and Park Hill.

As school leaders often point out, students and teachers today are involved in excessive test taking and practicing in class to take tests.

Still, the results can help determine whether teachers are teaching and students are learning.

Clearly public education is working in some schools in the Kansas City area and throughout the state.

But administrators and other leaders in the Kansas City and Hickman Mills districts, in particular, must remain focused on providing their students with high quality education that will help boost their test scores later.