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Kauffman School Expands As It Celebrates Some Of The Highest Test Scores In Kansas City

Kyle Palmer

Kansas City's newest charter high school opened Wednesday. Well, not totally new. 

The Ewing Marion Kauffman School has been on the Kansas City charter landscape for four years now.

It opened in 2011 with a lone fifth-grade class and gradually expanded, adding a grade each year. Now, the school is opening a brand new building on its campus near 63rd Street and Paseo Boulevard.

And that original fifth-grade class will become Kauffman's first set of ninth-graders. 

"We had kids in here as eighth-graders who were cutting up," says Principal Julie Baker. "Now they are really attending: sitting up straight, taking notes, and really taking to heart what we're telling them."

Count Arthur Weston as duly impressed. He's been at Kauffman since fifth grade, when he entered the school reading on a second-grade level. Now, he says he's on grade level or "maybe even a year ahead." 

"The teachers are definitely more serious now," he says. "They are telling us that what we do now really matters and is important for our lives."

Yet, a part of the message must already have been getting across. That is, if you look at the school's test scores. 

Arthur and his classmates earned some of the highest scores in Missouri on this year's standardized MAP tests. More  than 80 percent of Kauffman's eighth-graders in 2015 scored proficient or advanced on both the state reading and math tests. 

Compare that to Missouri eighth-graders' statewide average of 58 percent for English and 28 percent for math. Kauffman surpasses, too, the eighth-grade scores of some of the metro's highest performing suburban districts like Blue Springs. 

Yet the numbers become starker when put in relief next to what Kansas City Public Schools did. Eighth-grade proficiency rates for the Kansas City district were 24 percent for English and only 5 percent for math. 

"We are proving that kids from the urban core should have high expectations," Baker says. "These kids in ninth grade are going to show the city what they deserve."

Kauffman has been criticized in the past for siphoning off students from the area's public schools. Like most charter schools, Kauffman uses a lottery system to determine its enrollment. The school says it gives "geographical preference" to students living in the six zip codes in Kansas City that Kauffman officials have determined offer children the "fewest quality education options". 

The school also takes much of its behavior management and pedagogical philosophy from Uncommon Schools, based in New York, which has been criticizedin the past for its "no excuses" approach. Kauffman's website says the school is a "demanding" one that will require students to have "strength and resolve". 

Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to the school's full name as the 'Ewing and Muriel Kauffman School'. It is the Ewing Marion Kauffman School. 

Kyle Palmer is the editor of the Shawnee Mission Post, a digital news outlet serving Northeast Johnson County, Kansas. He previously served as KCUR's news director and morning newscaster.
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