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Kansas City Drops Standards-Based Education Reform

The Kansas City Star reports that the 16,700-student Missouri district is dropping a reform plan that grouped some students by achievement level while the district struggles to regain its accreditation, which it lost in January.

The "student-centered" transformation, which had eliminated designations such as the "third grade" and instead grouped students by their levels of achievement, proved too massive of an undertaking for a district focused on regaining its accreditation, Superintendent Steve Green told The Star.

That movement, originally called "standards-based" education, was the most dramatic reform then-Superintendent John Covington planned for Kansas City classrooms.

But Covington left unexpectedly last August as the movement was beginning its second year, taking with him the program's lead architect, Mary Esselman. And that instantly jeopardized his most ambitious classroom turnaround effort in Kansas City.

The district had rolled out standards-based reform in five schools in 2010, and five more schools in 2011. Green told the newspaper that he'd like to revisit the effort in the future. In May, Missouri lawmakers failed to pass a bill that would have allowed the state to appoint a takeover board for the district instead of waiting two years, as the law now requires.

With Kansas City backing away from the move to group students by achievement instead of by grade, the Adams 50 district in suburban Denver may be the largest school system forging ahead with the arrangement. I wrote an article in March that explored both the challenges faced by the 10,500-student district and the benefits administrators believe they have reaped from adopting this policy.

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