Archive for Sunday, April 14, 1991


April 14, 1991


Any vacationer starting a road trip is likely to fill the car's gas tank, make sure the radiator has plenty of water and check the tires.

However, those prudent measures could be for nought if the traveler didn't also establish a destination and use a road map to reach it.

Similarly, a new school accreditation process being piloted by the Kansas Department of Education moves the emphasis away from school "inputs" and toward specific student outcomes. Rather than focus on the number of microscopes in the lab or books in the library, the new accreditation process defines what students should be able to achieve using such resources.

The Quality Performance Accreditation System was adopted by the State Board of Education in March, and on Tuesday the Lawrence school district was chosen as one of 50 pilot districts statewide to begin participating in the program next school year.

McLOUTH School Supt. Robert Behrens, whose district also is among the 50 pilot participants, agreed that while measuring outcomes is more difficult than listing inputs, it is a much-needed change.

"If you really don't know where you're going, how are you going to know when you get there? The state is saying you need to put some guideposts down and make a road map," Behrens said.

Kathy Boyer, an education specialist with the state, said she thinks the new accreditation process "has a potential to make some dramatic changes to schools in Kansas and ultimately to the kinds of students we turn out."

The program specifies 10 outcomes that Kansas public schools should work to achieve. Boyer said many of those desired outcomes cannot be measured solely by traditional standardized tests and will require school districts to develop new ways of assessment.

FOR EXAMPLE, one outcome calls for students to "have the communication skills necessary to live, learn and work in a global society." While students will take a state-developed communications test to help determine if schools are making progress in that area, Boyer said teachers also might have students engage in a formal debate or give a speech as a way to measure their communication skills.

Another defined outcome, that students "work effectively both independently and in groups in order to live, learn and work in a global society," also might be measured in part by teachers' observations of students' classroom performance.

Carol Abrahamson, president of the Lawrence Education Assn., expressed some concern about the broad scope of some of the stated outcomes, saying that "some of these things are going to be really difficult to measure."

She said that although teachers obviously get an idea of how students are progressing through informal classroom observation, it could be very time-consuming to try to formalize those classroom assessments.

"WHILE YOU were putting down in writing some goals you had achieved, perhaps you could have been working on two more goals," Abrahamson said.

Clenece Hills, South Junior High School teacher, agreed that there could be some major obstacles to switching to outcomes-based accreditation without "restructuring the way we use our time."

Boyer pointed out that the present stated outcomes are not set in stone and that the 50 pilot districts will be expected to make recommendations as to how the system could be improved.

"If we . . . were to say `Thou shalt do . . .' without getting any input from the field, then I think we'd have anarchy," Boyer said.

The state also does not expect to see massive school improvements overnight, Boyer said, and that's why schools under the new process will be accredited only every four years instead of annually.

"It doesn't involve quick fixes. We certainly don't expect a district's graduation rate to go from 75 percent to 95 percent in one year," Boyer said.

AND WHILE the process might involve more detailed assessment work on the part of teachers, it also will take more work on the part of the state: An audit team established by the state Board of Education will visit each school at least once during its four-year accreditation cycle.

"It obviously is going to take a lot more manpower to assess, but I think the overall gains are worth the additional effort," Boyer said.

Said Lawrence School Supt. Dan Neuenswander, "I'm glad to see the state department taking the responsibility for insisting that school districts look at outcomes more than inputs. I'm also glad that the Lawrence system has a chance to be a part of designing what that looks like.

"All this is tying in so well with what we're already doing."

For example, each school involved in the accreditation is required to develop an improvement plan outlining both desired outcomes and the strategies to achieve them. Meanwhile, every school in the Lawrence district has had a school improvement team for several years now.

"THE VEHICLE'S already in place," Neuenswander said.

The accreditation plan also calls for staff development programs to help teachers achieve the desired outcomes.

"We already have a strong in-service component, and that component is led heavily by teachers," Neuenswander said. "They do surveys every year of what teachers feel they need to be more effective."

In addition, the district administration underwent a restructuring last year, resulting in the creation of two positions that Neuenswander said will play a key role in achieving desired outcomes.

P. Kay Duncan, director of curriculum, will see to it that school programs are "aligned to give us what we want," and Sandra Holloway, director of student outcomes, will be responsible for "determining if we're getting what we want," Neuenswander said.

THE LAWRENCE school district already has nine goals for students that were developed in the mid-1980s by several school patrons. One goal calls for students to be good citizens, not only of this country, but of the world. Meanwhile, the newly defined state outcomes stress that students learn to function in a global society.

"There are a lot of parallels (between the two sets of goals), and I think they will come even closer to matching after we've had an opportunity to review and revise ours," Neuenswander said.

Lawrence High School already is going through an outcomes-based accredition process under the direction of the North Central Assn. As in the state program, the school has four years to make progress in achieving a set of goals. The school is in its second year of the accreditation.

Neuenswander said that because of the many similarities between the North Central accreditation and the Quality Performance Accreditation, LHS will not be among the Lawrence schools participating in the state program.

ALTHOUGH the state has the manpower to work with only three schools from each of the 50 pilot districts, "we submitted four thinking maybe we could slip in one more," Neuenswander said. "They said no."

Central Junior High School, Quail Run School, India-Kaw Valley School and Pinckney School were the schools submitted. And though only three of those schools will participate in the state program officially, Neuenswander said several schools in the district probably will work on their own outcomes-based programs.

By the 1994-95 school year, all districts in the state are to be involved in the new accreditation process.

Holloway said that while teachers and others still have a lot of questions about the new accreditation process, its success will depend on everybody's full commitment from the outset.

"We have to get comfortable with the fact that there are lots of answers that will emerge as we go through the process," Holloway said. "Let's be creative. We're trying to teach our kids to do that.

"We're also trying to teach our kids to be risk-takers. So what if we make a few mistakes?

"The only thing we're committing to right now is sitting down and talking about what we want our kids to be like."

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