By Dennis Minich
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released its 2017-18 Annual Performance Reports (APR) for all public school districts in the state, and while all of Cass County’s Districts scored well above necessary performance levels, the report does show some problem areas, especially in the Harrisonville R-9 District.
Schools were graded in five performance areas: academic achievement, subgroup achievement, college and careers readiness, attendance, and graduation rates.
Not all of the criteria carried the same impact on the total score, but results this year were changed, according to the state, to place a slightly higher emphasis on college and career readiness, attendance, and graduation rates. The report found 97 percent of all districts scored above the 70 percent level which is required for accreditation.
Harrisonville scored a 92.5, which was the lowest among the districts in Cass County. Ray-Pec led the way with a 98.7 percent score, followed by Archie with a 98.5 percent score and Midway at 98.1.
Coming in the middle of the pack were Sherwood at 97.7, Pleasant Hill at 96.2 and Drexel at 94.2. Belton was just ahead of Harrisonville at 92.9 percent. The one area where Harrisonville lagged considerably behind the other districts was in attendance. Each of the other districts scored 100 percent in the category while Harrisonville came in at just 75 percent. Those numbers don’t mean the other districts had perfect attendance, but that they achieved the state’s goal.
Harrisonville actually outperformed every other district in academic achievement, with a perfect 100 percent. Belton was the lowest in that category, with a 92.5 percent score.
The reporting period did not include the current school year. Harrisonville Superintendent Paul Mensching, who started this school year, said the report contained good and bad news.
“This is really a very good report.
“Our two problem areas are attendance and college and career readiness, both of which we were already aware of. We have taken steps to correct the readiness issue. For example, the new computer curriculum, which was recently approved, will move us in the right direction,” he said.
“Where we have our real problem is in chronic absenteeism. The goal is 90 percent. Ray-Pec and Pleasant Hill and the other districts have no problem with this. We are at 87 percent, it doesn’t matter what the reason, that’s a problem.”
While the high school received recent criticism for an attendance incentive giving perfect and near-perfect attendance students the option to opt out of some finals, Mensching said this is not just a high school problem.
“I don’t know what the underlying problem is. This is not just a problem at the high school, this is a problem in K through 12. There is a problem in every building,” he said, adding that finding the solution is a priority.
“I know there has been some turmoil in this (superintendent’s) office. That wouldn’t affect students, but every change comes with a change in focus and that can affect our teachers, which would then affect our students,” he said.
While the high school’s solution, which is not a district policy but simply an incentive at the school level, may be having some positive impact, Mensching said there is still the question of the other buildings.
“We are looking at everything. We are looking at the impact teachers’ absences may be having. If teachers take a lot of time off, it maybe sends a message to students that attendance isn’t that important. We have to look at everything,” he said.
While the focus on attendance seems less important to some, Mensching said he thinks it is very important, and not just because of state funding.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever had a conversation about funding because of attendance. I really don’t know what kind of impact attendance has on funding,” he said.
He added that most funding comes from local taxes and state funding, which is based on a formula, not on attendance.