This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Despite an improved showing in this year’s performance report, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will not recommend that the Kansas City schools be upgraded from their current unaccredited status.
The decision opens the door for students living in the Kansas City district to possibly follow those in Normandy and Riverview Gardens and transfer to adjacent accredited districts under a law upheld in June by the Missouri Supreme Court.
Chris Nicastro, Missouri’s commissioner of education, said in a letter to Kansas City superintendent Stephen Green that the department is going to stick to its stance that it will need two or three years of data from the latest version of its school evaluation program before considering such a change.
After losing its accreditation last year based on its showing in the fourth version of the Missouri School Improvement Plan, or MSIP4, the district rebounded this year in the first results under MSIP5. Data released last month showed Kansas City had 60 percent of the 140 points available, placing it squarely in the provisional accreditation category.
“We were pleased to see the progress made this past year as reported on the district’s Annual Performance Report (APR) and the improved financial stability and climate. All of you, your staff and the students deserve recognition for this progress,” Nicastro said in her letter to Green, released late Thursday.
She also praised the district’s presentation to the state school board at its meeting earlier this month.
But Nicastro noted that most of the points earned in this year’s APR resulted from progress from “extremely low” levels in the past two years, and even with the upward movement, about 70 percent of Kansas City’s students are not proficient in all four academic areas tested – English, math, social studies and science.
As a result, she said, “The Department will not be recommending that Kansas City's classification status be changed this year. Though we recognize the hard work and commitment by district leaders, principals, teachers, parents and students, the school system has yet to demonstrate the sustainable trend of improvement, nor the adequate levels of achievement, necessary to grant reaccreditation.”
In response, Green told the Kansas City Starthat Nicastro’s decision was not unexpected, but he still feels the district deserves an upgrade based on improvement that he called “dramatic and unprecedented.”
“We strongly believe that based on hard data earned over two years, we have earned provisional accreditation,” Green said.
Nicastro’s letter said that the issue of Kansas City’s accreditation will still be on the October agenda for the state school board, which has the final say in the matter. But traditionally the board has followed the lead of the department in such decisions.
Peter Herschend, president of the board, told the Beacon Monday that, like Nicastro, he applauds the progress the Kansas City schools have made, but they have to show sustained improvement before the board will consider a change in their accreditation classification.
Likening the schools to a baseball team, he said, "They have a winning streak of one game."
He also noted that the points the district gained were not in the core academic areas where the board wants to see improvement.
"They have a ways to go," Herschend said. "We’re after sustainable improvement. We’re not after a flash in the pan."
With its improvement on this year’s performance report, Kansas City found itself in a position similar to that of the St. Louis schools last year. Before the 2012 reports were released, the St. Louis Public Schools were unaccredited and faced the possibility of having to pay for the tuition of thousands of students who could transfer to nearby accredited districts.
When the district showed improvements on its 2012 report, moving into provisional accreditation territory, it asked that DESE recommend that it move officially into that classification. At first, Nicastro said that though it had made progress, the district needed to show that it could sustain the higher level before she would make such a recommendation.
She later switched course and said the district should be provisionally accredited, a request the state board approved.
This year, in its first evaluation under MSIP5, St. Louis schools sank back into unaccredited territory with a score of just 24.4 percent. As with Kansas City, Nicastro has said she will wait for two or three years of data under the new evaluation plan before recommending a change in status for St. Louis.
With its change, St. Louis avoided the possibility of transfers that Kansas City now faces. Though the Supreme Court upheld the law and started the transfers in the St. Louis area, a Kansas City case remains under consideration, with a hearing scheduled for next week.
After learning of Nicastro’s decision on Thursday, Green warned that if the court orders transfers in Kansas City, such a move would “threaten to destabilize a foundation and results built during the last three years.”
Kansas City Public Schools
Teachers and administrators: 2,300
Student demographics (2012 statistics)
African-American - 61.1 percent
Hispanic - 26.3 percent
Asian/Pacific Islander - 3 percent
American Indian/Alaskan Native - 0.2 percent
White -9.3 percent
Free/reduced lunch - 87.7