A report recommending the testing of third-graders before advancement to the next grade has been met with some support and some skepticism in Lawrence.
The report was the result of a year of work by the Task Force on Creating Tomorrow in Education, a 14-member group affiliated with the Kansas Board of Regents. The report recommended several changes in the state's education system, including a competency examination for third-graders.
Gov. Joan Finney said Thursday that she supported the plan and would push for adoption of the proposals offered by the task force.
Carol Abrahamson, a third-grade teacher at Hillcrest Elementary School, supports the general ideas in the plan. But she isn't sure how the state could implement the specifics, especially the test for third-graders.
"TESTS LIKE this are going to put a lot of pressure on the kids and their families," she said.
However, Abrahamson is not completely convinced the exam would be a bad idea.
"I think it's a good idea, but the public should realize that children learn and mature differently," she said. "The right test could reflect that. But a single paper-and-pencil test is not a good way to handle decision-making for primary age students."
Abrahamson said teachers draw upon many other factors, such as conferences with parents and teacher observations, when evaluating students.
"Pencil-and-paper tests are only beginning to be valuable when students get to the third-grade level," she said.
ALTHOUGH Jerry Bailey, associate dean of the Kansas University School of Education, had not seen the entire report, the one issue he expressed concern with was assessing third-graders.
"That's pretty high stakes for a third-grader," Bailey said. "The test should be fair and consist of more than pen and paper. Checks should be made on how they interact and problem solve. There's lots of variables that need to be emphasized as well as numerical and literacy ability."
Despite questions concerning the make-it-or-break-it exam for third-graders, both educators wholeheartedly support the plan's ideas for community involvement.
"ANYTHING that will get the community more involved in education is important," Abrahamson said. "There are children that don't have anyone interested in their education. If a parent didn't do well in school, they often don't care how their own child is doing in school. Having a mentor-advocate could really help kids like that."
Bailey also wants to see the community become more involved with the schools.
"Back when the West was young and I was a school principal, it seemed like we were erecting barriers to keep parents out of schools," Bailey said. "Now parents are becoming more interested and aware about what is happening in the schools."
OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS of the plan included:
Requiring a test before graduation, verifying that certain skills had been learned.
Offering pre-kindergarten classes in all districts to better prepare disadvantaged children for school.
Establishing a mentor-advocate for each child who would ensure the neccessary support for educational success. The mentor-advocate could be a parent or other support person.
Encouraging all Kansas residents to participate in lifelong learning through generous support of libraries and other opportunities for continuing education.
Building cooperative relationships between the community and the schools.
Changing the focus of schools to performance or outcome based. Schools should be rewarded for success, not penalized for failure.
THE NEXT STEP, according to the plan, is to widen the amount of involvement citizens have in decision-making.
The report will be turned over to the Kansas Commission on Education Restructuring and Accountability, which was created by the 1992 Legislature and began its work this summer.