Delayed release of test scores makes KC Superintendent Mark Bedell’s job even tougher

Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell and student Naima Wilson
Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell and student Naima Wilson File photo

Kansas City School Superintendent Mark Bedell is frustrated, and who can blame him?

In a perfect world, he would have received his students’ math and English test scores from last spring months ago — maybe even in June, long before a new school year began. That way, Kansas City administrators and teachers could adjust their curriculum to address any shortcomings that the tests revealed.

In a perfect world, those adjustments would be made so that when students take the tests again this spring, they would be better prepared, and their scores would reflect that.

All of that would help Bedell and his team move forward toward that ever-elusive goal of full accreditation for Kansas City Public Schools, a goal that some years seems to be at hand and in other years remains a distant target.

But education administration in Missouri is nowhere close to a perfect world. In fact, it’s a world where the goalposts are constantly moving, where tests are revised almost annually, making it impossible for leaders who are under pressure like Bedell to truly know if they’re making the academic progress they need to make.

The results of those tests that students took in April? Bedell may not see them until December or even early next year. That would be the latest release of those scores in recent memory, education leaders said.

And that gives Bedell and his team precious little time to adjust their curriculum before students take the tests again this spring.

“It’s pretty simple,” Bedell said. “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.”

Now, said Bedell, “I’m going to be another year in the hole.”

The delay this time is related to yet another new set of standardized tests. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education brought in additional experts to help determine what scores should merit proficiency, a process known as setting “cut scores.”

It’s easy to blame the education department for all these travails. But much of the blame could also be placed on the General Assembly. In 2014, lawmakers needlessly wiped out the Common Core standards that were intended to measure student performance across states.

That resulted in a need for new educational standards in Missouri. That meant more working groups of parents and educators developing new standards, and that led to new tests and new results for administrators like Bedell. State officials have revised the standardized tests four times in the past five years. Comparing one year’s scores with a previous year is now impossible because superintendents are comparing apples to oranges.

In an urban district such as Kansas City Public Schools, where as many as 40 percent of students change schools each year, the delay in data is especially problematic.

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 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.

Leaders of unaccredited urban school districts need all the help they can get.