JEFFERSON CITY – State education officials granted provisional accreditation Wednesday to Kansas City schools, citing improvements in standardized test scores but concerns that many students still aren't performing at high levels.

The unanimous vote Wednesday by the State Board of Education means the Kansas City School District no longer will be labeled as unaccredited when classes start next week. That will remove the option for some students to transfer to other nearby schools at the expense of the Kansas City district.

The district had been unaccredited since 2012 and had asked for its status to be bumped up based on the most recent student test results.

Kansas City schools Superintendent Stephen Green described the board's decision as "a vote of confidence" in the efforts to turn around the long-struggling district.

"Today we shed the shackle of unaccreditation, and with that goes the transfer situation," Green said.

Missouri law requires districts lacking accreditation to pay the costs for students who wish to transfer to other nearby school districts. Fewer than 20 of the nearly 16,000 Kansas City students actually were attempting to use that provision this coming school year.

More than a 2,000 students transferred out of unaccredited districts in St. Louis County this past school year.

Many Kansas City students still are not scoring as "proficient" on standardized tests for English, mathematics, science and social studies. But the district earned more points toward accreditation because individual student achievement has been improving, such as by moving from "below basic" to "basic" status on the tests.

Documents released by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education show Kansas City received 61.8 percent of the possible accreditation points this year, up from 60 percent the previous year. Both point totals were good enough to earn provisional accreditation, but the state board held off on the designation last year to see whether the school district could maintain its improvement.

State board President Peter Herschend said Kansas City schools will face a challenge to maintain their provisional accreditation without slipping backward next year.

"I am pleased with the positive changes that are there, but this district has got a long and difficult road yet to travel," Herschend said.

State board member Charlie Shields, a Kansas City schools alumnus and former state senator, said he's pleased with the district's incremental improvements.

"At least for the first time in a long time, you get the feeling that the district is headed in the right direction," Shields said.