KC district on pace for accreditation upgrade

Written by Muleskinner Staff


(KANSAS CITY, Mo., AP) — The Kansas City school district is on track to shed the “unaccredited” label while the St. Louis school district risks regaining the designation unless it makes improvements, according to newly released school performance data that has big implications as struggling districts grapple with a state law that allows students to transfer to accredited school systems.
The report, which was embargoed for release Friday and is the first since the state switched to a new evaluation system, shows the Kansas City district earning 60 percent of the points possible, placing it in the provisionally accredited range. The new accreditation system requires higher test scores in some subjects, places a greater emphasis on graduation rates and requires schools to track things like how many students succeed in higher-level courses rather than just how many enroll in them.
“I think we have a strong case for being an exemplar of what turnaround could and should look like,” Kansas City Superintendent R. Stephen Green said in an interview Thursday.
The St. Louis district, however, earned just 24.6 percent of the points possible. Under the new system, districts must earn 50 percent of overall points or face the risk of becoming unaccredited. St. Louis Superintendent Kelvin Adams said in a written statement that he was “disappointed” with the results but “confident” that the district would show noticeable gains next year after it’s had time to adjust to the new system.
The state’s other two unaccredited school systems stay in that range, with Normandy earning a score of 11.1 and Riverview Gardens a score of 28.6 percent. Districts that are unaccredited can face a state takeover and must pay for their students to transfer to accredited school systems, while provisionally accredited districts are subject to extra monitoring.
The state has said most districts won’t see their accreditation classification change until 2015, giving the school systems three years to improve under the new system. That means St. Louis, which gained provisional accreditation in October 2012, shouldn’t face an immediate downgrade.
But Kansas City wants its accreditation upgraded now — something that would prevent potentially thousands of its students and the state dollars they bring from leaving the district. Time is of the essence because a recent Missouri Supreme Court ruling allows students to transfer to accredited districts. While hundreds of Normandy and Riverview Gardens students recently began taking advantage of the law to leave the two St. Louis County districts, a pending court case is preventing Kansas City transfers for now.
Green said he and other district officials will meet with Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education officials in early September and ask to make their case for an accreditation boost at a state Board of Education meeting later that month. He said remaining unaccredited “would be tragic as well as traumatic for us, given the progress that we’ve made over the last two years.”
He said the district took aggressive steps last year to boost student performance, offering spring- and winter-break school sessions and luring students to an after-school program by offering them dinner. Staff went knocking on the doors of students who missed school to increase attendance and improved its graduation rate.
Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro was noncommittal about the district’s chances of dropping the unaccredited label — something Green likened to a “scarlet letter.”
“We certainly applaud their efforts and we’re pleased to see their growth,” she said during a teleconference with reporters Thursday. “They will be coming in to talk to us. And we certainly will be looking forward to talking to them further.”