Trish Bransky has ordered another filing cabinet for her office in the annex at Lawrence High School.
Bransky is one of two gifted education consultants who oversee about 180 students at LHS, and she's filled up two tall filing cabinets with materials related to her job. But since being named "internal chair" of the North Central Evaluation of LHS, Bransky has outgrown her file cabinets and has begun filling crates and boxes to the brim.
Every seven years since about 1906, LHS has been evaluated by the North Central Assn.'s Commission on Schools. But this time around, the procedure is different.
North Central is introducing a new accreditation method in some high schools across the country, one that a North Central official said will make schools more accountable for correcting any weaknesses.
UNDER THE traditional evaluation procedure, LHS administrators and faculty worked on a report, which included details on almost every aspect of the school. Then, a team of North Central evaluators came to check out LHS and make sure the report was accurate.
But in this evaluation, LHS administrators will use the new process, called "outcomes accreditation." They'll be assisted by Kansas University officials: Fred Rodriquez, associate professor of curriculum and instruction, will be the external evaluator, and Nona Tollefson, professor of educational psychology and research, will help analyze data and determine whether LHS makes progress in reaching the goals.
Cathy Baird, the assistant director of North Central, which is based at Arizona State University, said in a telephone interview that in outcomes accreditation, high school staff members identify five areas they'd like to improve and the staff then works on programs to reach those goals.
OUTCOMES accreditation is repeated on a four-year cycle, instead of the traditional method's seven-year cycle.
In setting goals, said Baird, a high school using the outcomes accreditation approach might identify "improving math skills" as a priority, for example.
"The staff would work as one unit to develop ways to emphasize math so that every teacher in every subject would use math in some way," she said.
Three of the five goals are supposed to be related to cognitive skills, said Baird, and two of them are supposed to be "affective" goals. For example, a school might elect to improve math, writing and science skills for their cognitive goals, but would choose to improve attendance or cut down on vandalism as affective goals.
AFTER A HIGH school outlines its five goals, Baird said, a North Central team much smaller than the team used in the traditional evaluation approach will review the goals.
"In the sense that the team will assume that each school knows which areas it needs to work on, it's actually more of a `validation' than an `evaluation,'" said Baird.
At LHS, the steering committee is now meeting weekly to narrow its focus down to the five goals, Bransky said. The committee is looking at surveys of students, staff and parents and the LHS School Improvement Plan, which also outlines goals, to determine which areas it would like to focus on.
After LHS is evaluated, staff members will develop programs to address the goals and, two years later, will start the four-year evaluation cycle over again.
THE FIRST time through, the process promises to be rather arduous, said Bransky, whose overflowing file cabinets already testify to that fact. Bransky also has spent a considerable amount of time on the telephone, talking to people at other high schools who've abandoned the traditional evaluation method for outcomes accreditation.
But Bransky believes that, in the end, the extra work will be worthwhile. In the traditional evaluation procedure, a good deal of time was spent looking at elements like student/teacher ratios and "maximum student loads" for each teacher. Those things are important but LHS meets such standards and should go on to other areas, she said.
"We could look at our drop-out situation, and have a goal related to that," she said. "It's time for us do to something like this."
IN THE NEW LHS accrediation procedure, the goals will commit the LHS staff to helping students acquire particular skills and help them be successful at school, said Bransky.
She said the outcomes approach fits in with the district's "effective schools" philosophy, which emphasizes success for every child in the school system. For example, the School Improvement Plan that LHS will use in writing their goals is an important element in the effective schools approach.
Baird said the traditional evaluation approach is probably best for smaller school districts that don't have a curriculum evaluation cycle of their own. However, the Lawrence district does re-evaluate curriculum on a cyclical basis and outcomes accreditation fits in well with the effective schools approach, so it will probably work well here, she said.