Missouri education chief won't recommend Kansas City accreditation boost

Thursday, September 26, 2013 | 9:44 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY  — Missouri's top education official announced Thursday that she won't recommend that the Kansas City school district regain partial accreditation, a change that would make it no longer subject to a state law that allows students to transfer to accredited districts.

Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro cited concerns about struggling students in notifying Kansas City Superintendent R. Steve Green of her decision. The Missouri State Board of Education will make the final decision, and the issue will be on its October agenda.

In making its case to the board last week for an accreditation upgrade, the unaccredited school system stressed that it nearly scored in the provisionally accredited range last year and hit the mark this year. Green described the improvement as "dramatic." The latest school performance report, which is the first issued under a new evaluation system, uses test scores, attendance rates and other data to evaluate districts. The district was helped because the new system gives districts credit for improvements, although most of its students still aren't hitting proficiency goals in core subjects.

"We were pleased to see the progress students made in Kansas City schools this year in science and math," Nicastro said in a news release. "But we must do what we believe is in the best interests of the children."

The release said that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will continue to work closely with the Kansas City district to help sustain its improvement efforts. Unaccredited districts can face a state takeover and must pay for their students to transfer to accredited school systems, while provisionally accredited districts are subject to extra monitoring.

The Kansas City school district, which has the support of the Missouri School Boards' Association and several neighboring districts in its bid to regain provisional accreditation, hopes to avoid the same problems two unaccredited St. Louis County districts have experienced.

This year, hundreds of students in the unaccredited Riverview Gardens and Normandy districts were allowed for the first time to transfer to better-performing neighboring districts. The transfers are creating financial problems in those two districts and have proven unpopular in some of the surrounding school systems that are accepting transfer students.

Kansas City has avoided the student transfers because of a pending court case, but resolution could be coming. The Missouri Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in that case next week.

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