By JOE ROBERTSON
The Kansas City Star
Although the Kansas City and Hickman Mills school districts remain in accreditation limbo, more area districts are breaking into the clear.
Center School District’s eighth-grade algebra students may be leading the way. The south Kansas City district made the most dramatic leap among area districts in accreditation score cards released today by the state.
Center met 13 of the state’s 14 standards after meeting only eight a year ago.
Many things are working for Center, a district of 2,500 students with some of the same socio-economic stresses as the Kansas City and Hickman Mills districts, administrator Sally Newell said.
But those algebra students, as much as anyone, might be the inspiration other districts need to gain the high ground that most area districts have attained in the state’s annual performance reports.
Center recently joined a growing trend of pushing eighth-graders into algebra I before high school, and there were some doubters, Newell said. But when the state’s end-of-course exam results came back earlier this summer, 78 percent of algebra students scored proficient or advanced — well above the state average of 57 percent.
“Everyone saw our eighth-graders rock that end-of-course exam,” Newell said. “And you think, if they can do it, everybody else better step it up.”
In recent years, scores have fallen off among districts that serve larger percentages of poor families and transient families. The Kansas City district, which is two years into a collaborative effort with the state to improve performance, met four of 14 standards for the second year in a row. Hickman Mills, which is one year into a similar process, met six of 14, also for the second straight year.
Kansas City is provisionally accredited and Hickman Mills is fully accredited. Today’s scorecard shows that the districts need to improve, but the state will continue the collaborative process before recommending any changes in accreditation status, Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said.
“School improvement is a complex process,” Nicastro said. Districts with large populations of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches can struggle, she said, as can those with concentrations of students learning English.
Even when districts make gains, “that performance is fragile,” she said.
Kansas City, for the first time in many years, has a stable administration and board, and Nicastro said she was encouraged, despite the low number of standards met.
“We believe they are going to be able to turn the corner on student performance,” she said.
Generally, districts must meet six standards to be provisionally accredited and nine to be fully accredited.
Most districts in the area push for a perfect 14, and 19 of 29 area kindergarten-12 districts made it, up from 16 last year.
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