We’re showing improvement although we still have a ways to go.

Kansas City, Missouri School District super­in­ten­dents and board mem­bers have been mak­ing opti­mistic state­ments like this for years and even decades. However, stu­dent per­for­mance, as shown by the lat­est state scor­ing report, demon­strates very lit­tle improve­ment in some areas and actu­al loss­es in oth­ers. The dis­trict remains pro­vi­sion­al­ly accred­it­ed, i.e. it is not ful­ly accred­it­ed. Overall aca­d­e­m­ic per­for­mance is down from 66.1 to 63.9 per­cent. 70% is required for full accred­i­ta­tion. Two-thirds of the stu­dents are not pro­fi­cient in math, read­ing and writ­ing. The score in sci­ence is 0 out of a pos­si­ble 16 points. On the ACT test, the stan­dard mea­sure of col­lege readi­ness, the state aver­age is 21.7 while Kansas City Public School’s com­pos­ite score is 16.3, not high enough to qual­i­fy for admis­sion to most col­leges. Graduation rate and col­lege and career readi­ness rat­ings stayed flat. Out of Missouri’s 521 school dis­tricts, KCPS is one of eight that did not achieve full accred­i­ta­tion.

A num­ber of rea­sons for the poor show­ing have been offered. Students took the state tests online for the first time, but KCPS stu­dents have had their own com­put­ers since 2014 and should be famil­iar with the tech­nol­o­gy. Many KCPS stu­dents are from low-income fam­i­lies, but state offi­cials point out that out of the 10 urban dis­tricts with demo­graph­ics sim­i­lar to KCPS, sci­ence scores went up in half of them. Teachers con­cen­trat­ed on English, biol­o­gy and American History but not sci­ence. If they con­cen­trate on sci­ence in the future will scores in the oth­er sub­jects go down or remain flat?

Several addi­tion­al points can be made. The district’s scores are buoyed by those of Lincoln College Prep, one of the high­est per­form­ing high schools in the state, which received, for exam­ple, a score of 87 in math. However Lincoln is the only school in the dis­trict that has selec­tive admis­sion. Only stu­dents with strong grades and test scores are admit­ted, and they can be demit­ted and sent back to oth­er dis­trict schools if grades drop. Without the Lincoln Prep scores, the over­all dis­trict would be even low­er. A fur­ther point is that the over­all scores include grad­u­a­tion rate, col­lege readi­ness and atten­dance, fac­tors that are impor­tant but only indi­rect­ly indica­tive of aca­d­e­m­ic qual­i­ty.

So how do we account for the con­tin­u­ing lack of sus­tained aca­d­e­m­ic progress in KCPS? Our next arti­cle on this web­site will con­tain sto­ries by peo­ple who are in the schools on an ongo­ing basis, deal­ing with stu­dents and observ­ing direct­ly the edu­ca­tion­al process and its prob­lems. We will fol­low that with infor­ma­tion we have gath­ered about ini­tia­tives in oth­er school dis­tricts that appear to be bol­ster­ing aca­d­e­m­ic achieve­ment.

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