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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