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Mo. Education Commissioner Defends Accreditation Recommendation

State of Missouri

The hopes of Kansas City Public School officials were dashed last month when Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro recommended the district remain unaccredited.  

KCPS had been seeking provisional accreditation. Officials cited improvements in test scores and other factors. This August, the district earned 60 percent of the total possible points on its state report card (that was up from about 20 percent in a preliminary assessment last year). Fifty percent was the cutoff to be considered for provisional accreditation.

“We’re very pleased to see the work that Kansas City has done in the past year,” Nicastro said.

But she added that the new state assessment system that was put into place this year was designed to give credit for growth, so districts like KCPS that are struggling would be able to show growth in one year. But what’s important, Nicastro said, is that they sustain growth over at least three years.

Other Kansas City area districts have been rooting for KCPS to regain provisional  accreditation because of 1993 state law that allows students in unaccredited districts to transfer to accredited districts, at the expense of the unaccredited district.

In St. Louis this year, thousands of students have transferred out of two unaccredited districts; one faces bankruptcy because of the situation. Transfers in the KC area are being held up by a lawsuit that’s currently being decided by the Missouri Supreme Court.   

Nicastro said she wouldn’t let the problems of the transfer law, which she’d like to see eliminated, interfere with the integrity of the state assessment program.

As of this year, the state board of education now has the authority to intervene in Kansas City Public Schools immediately.  The state “took over” St. Louis public schools in 2007, and established an appointed board to govern the district.  St. Louis schools, however, are still provisionally accredited, and achieved only 28 percent of possible points on the state report card this year.

“We have tried over several years to do a number of things to support and intervene in districts that aren’t performing at the level that we expect,” Nicastro said. “And none of those have proven to be particularly effective over time.”

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education needs to develop a long-range plan to address the needs of children in failing districts around the state, she said.

We have tried over several years to do a number of things to support and intervene in districts that are not performing at the level that we expect. And none of those have proven to be particularly effective over time.

“In the past we’ve tried to tweak a system that hasn’t worked … we need to get beyond the constraints of the school districts, and the school systems and the structures that have traditionally governed our schools and start with the child,” Nicastro said. “If you plan from the child up and out, I suspect that some of those structures that we’ve had in place for generations may look very different.”

There are models around the country of schools with majority low-income students of color who achieve at very high levels, Nicastro said, but none of them are in Missouri.

The state has hired consultants to analyze the situation in Kansas City’s public schools and prepare a plan to deliver quality education to children here. In January, they will roll out a draft of that plan for community feedback and input.

Meanwhile, the state board of education makes a final decision on the district’s accreditation status on October 22.

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