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Kansas City Public Schools Misses Full Accreditation, Faces Fallout From Fake Attendance Numbers

File photo by Paul Andrews
In a statement, KCPS Superintendent Mark Bedell said the district is reviewing the annual performance data and will discuss the results at the next school board meeting.

Kansas City Public Schools will not be fully accredited this year after the district’s latest performance report failed to meet the requirements. 

At the state school board’s monthly meeting Tuesday, officials at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) recommended both KCPS and the Hickman Mills school district remain provisionally accredited.

This comes as KCPS deals with the fallout of falsified student attendance records from 2013 to 2016. KCPS announced Tuesday that the district will have to repay $192,730 in funding the district received as a result of inaccurate attendance numbers. This is separate from the decision to keep KCPS provisionally accredited. 

The ups and downs of accreditation

The state school board voted unanimously to keep KCPS and eight other districts provisionally accredited after some discussion about additional help the state can provide. 

“I’m aware of the hard work and all of the efforts that have gone into the improvement of that district and at the same time, an honest read of the data did not provide a compelling basis to make a recommendation of change,” said Chris Neale, assistant commissioner for the office of quality schools at DESE. 

KCPS lost accreditation in 2011, after a tumultuous decade that saw half the schools in the district close. Since he came on board in 2016, KCPS Superintendent Mark Bedell has focused on bringing up test scores and overall academic achievement. His first year, the district scored exactly 70% — the minimum score required by the state for full accreditation — marking the first time the district scored enough to qualify in 30 years. But, at the time, school board commissioner Margie Vandeven said she wanted to see sustained progress.

The 2017 score fell below the threshold. But earlier this year, KCPS was optimistic after the district announced its 2018 score was solidly in the range for full accreditation at 83%. 

The redesigned 2019 Annual Performance Report (APR) removed the percentile score that the state uses to make accreditation decisions and replaced it with color-coded bar graphs meant to give parents a more detailed look at how their school district or charter school is doing.

But DESE has calculated the 2019 score for districts that requested it. KCPS earned 65.4% and Hickman Mills earned 60.8%, according to data shared with KCUR. 

Kansas City Public Schools declined KCUR’s interview request but in a statement said the district is reviewing the decision. 

“We look forward to discussing the state’s required performance measures with district staff, families and community members and our progress toward full accreditation,” KCPS School Board Chair Pattie Mansur said. “Academic excellence is our central focus, and a commitment we take seriously on behalf of Kansas City's children."

Hickman Mills Superintendent Yolanda Cargile said the district will continue to work to make more continuous improvement. 

“We do show improvement in college and career readiness as well as our graduation rates. So we have some things to celebrate, in terms of how we serve children and our commitment to our families,” she said.

Cargile said she’d like to discuss the criteria for full accreditation with the state school board. She said her district has scored higher than a 70% almost every other year, which means it’s not meeting the requirement of two consecutive years of 70% or higher. 

“Is there room for revision of what that looks like? I don’t want the state to give the district anything, but I wonder if there is a process that we can collaboratively agree on, that does still show our growth and allows the district to earn full accreditation,” Cargile said. 

Asked how accreditation affects parents’ choices when it comes to school districts, Nicole Becker from Show Me KC Schools said it varies. 

“From our experience working with parents, this is a really individual decision,” Becker said.

Payback for inflated attendance

KCPS announced Tuesday the district received about $111,705 more than it should have and Kansas City charter schools got about $81,025 less because of falsified student attendance records from 2013 to 2016. 

KCPS will pay back the total amount — $192,730 — in the next two weeks, according to a news release. 

Seven KCPS district employees falsified student attendance records from 2013 to 2016, according to a summary of an external investigation made public by the district in November

The altered student records bumped KCPS’s attendance rate to over 80% in the 2015-2016 school year. While this is still below the state standard of 90%, it gave the district “significant breaks in the scoring system,” according to a previous KCPS press release. 

Changes to attendance records haven’t occurred since Mark Bedell became superintendent, according to the external investigation. Bedell said employees changed records in an effort to get accreditation. 

A separate internal audit looking at the 2018-2019 school year found practices that didn’t comply with state requirements and a lack of oversight. This included improperly using out of school suspension practices, not effectively training employees on state attendance rules and not consistently checking on chronically absent students last year. KCUR obtained the audit through a records request. 

KCPS has made changes as a result of both the internal and external reports, including revising training, standardizing attendance documentation across the district, creating an attendance standard operating procedure and dedicating a full-time employee to attendance. 

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter at KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and follow her on Twitter @andreatudhope

Aviva Okeson-Haberman is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter: @avivaokeson.

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 
Aviva Okeson-Haberman was the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3.
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