Close your eyes and visualize yourself as a runner. Not just any runner. A hurdler running around a high school athletic track, gauging the distance to each hurdle, leaping with a lift of the thigh and just barely clearing the obstacle. You know you aren’t the best hurdler on the track, but this race was a personal best for you: your best time ever, and you didn’t knock anything over. You are exhilarated, filled with hope for the future.
But then the track officials come out and replace the intermediate-height hurdles with high hurdles. From here on out, you’re going to need to jump higher than you’ve ever been able to before. This change dashes your dreams of maybe being able to place in the next meet.
Now imagine that the runner is the Kansas City Public Schools. Instead of running a race, they are training to improve enough to regain their accreditation. This week the district managed to slightly improve its scores on the Annual Performance Report, which is like a report card for public school districts. Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced the report scores this week.
“The Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) is closer to re-accreditation after meeting two additional standards and improving in 10 of 14 overall accreditation measurements,” the district announced. “Based on current projections, KCPS could by on the doorstep of full re-accreditation as early as 2013.”
Not so fast.
Last week, state Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro told reporters it usually takes more than a year to turn around a failing district.
“School improvement is not something that takes place in a short amount of time, particularly in an urban school district,” she cautioned.
Nicastro also issued a reminder that this is the last year Missouri districts will be using the current accreditation formula, version four of the Missouri School Improvement Program. From here on out, districts will be held accountable for the new, improved (the state hopes) version five standards.
“Rigor” is a popular word in the education reform movement these days, often used without much in the way of definition. However, the state education department uses just this word to describe the new standards. And they hope to use them to propel Missouri from the middle tier of states — in terms of academic achievement — to the top tier by the year 2020. The state’s catch-phrase for this effort is “Top 10 by 20.”
Starting next year, public school students must meet higher standards in English, math and science classes. And Kansas City Public Schools students did not meet any of the academic standards in this year’s performance report. They did improve slightly according to a number of measures, but not enough to clear the intermediate hurdles. And now the state has set the hurdles even higher.
In other words, in order to regain accreditation, the academic athletes in the Kansas City Public Schools (they call them scholars) are going to have to learn to jump higher than they ever have before.
Representatives of that district often sound sensitive about being singled out for criticism, and I want to make it clear that they are not alone. All districts in the metro area and across the state will be held to the new, higher standards.
Already, Hickman Mills is struggling, and Nicastro is hinting that district may lose full accreditation as soon as next month.
Then there’s the issue of a few of the other suburban metropolitan-area districts that aren’t struggling now but didn’t score all the points they could have on this year’s performance report. Grandview and Independence were one point away from a perfect score. And North Kansas City and Raytown scored only 12 out of 14 possible points. Not really a problem under the current accreditation system. These slightly lower scores, however, hint of possible trouble ahead. Under the current system, nine points are required to retain full accreditation. Those districts that are only two points away from the top score are also only three points away from provisional accreditation.
Now that the state has received a waiver of requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, the focus is supposed to be on helping struggling districts rather than punishing them. We already know the Kansas City Public Schools and Hickman Mills need a lot of help. But we shouldn’t overlook the needs of schools in the aging older suburban areas that are beginning to show signs of need, as well.
Students and districts alike are engaged in an academic race to jump higher hurdles, and they will need some committed coaching in order to remain competitive.
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