Outcomes-based education to some people means lowering expectations for students, but the Lawrence school district can develop an outcomes model that challenges students, Lawrence school board members said Monday.
At the request of board member Tom Murray, the board held a study session to discuss outcomes-based education.
Lawrence is one of several pilot districts involved with Quality Performance Accreditation, the state's new process of accrediting schools. The traditional accrediting process focuses on "inputs" like the number of books in the library and the number of microscopes in the science lab. QPA focuses on student outcomes, or what students know and are able to do as a result of their education.
Murray said he was concerned that QPA could lead the district to adopt components of outcomes education models that he does not favor.
He said some outcomes models do away with letter grades and replace them with other forms of reporting student progress. Principals at Riverside School and New York School considered doing away with letter grades next school year but dropped the idea after strong protests from Murray.
Board member Mary Loveland said that even though outcomes-based education involves new ways of evaluating student performance, she didn't think letter grades necessarily had to be dropped.
"I see the need for both standards," Loveland said.
Murray said some outcomes models place such a strong emphasis on helping low achievers that they don't adequately address the needs of high achievers. He said some teachers in the district already have complained to him about "an unwritten policy that does not favor challenging the brightest kids."
Board President Barbara Ballard said she does not share that perception.
"I really don't see where anybody has been slighted," Ballard said. "We have tried to provide something of quality for the entire population."
Board Vice President John Tacha said the high-achieving students "seem to be OK regardless of what system we use."
He said a big concern of his is helping low achievers to be more successful in school. He noted that a high percentage of prison inmates did not graduate from high school.
"We must find a way to do a better job with those young people," Tacha said of the low-achieving students. "It costs us incredible sums of money."
At the same time, Tacha said, the district needs to do a better job of challenging all students.
Lawrence School Supt. Al Azinger said that whatever approach the district takes to outcomes-based education, "I'm interested in challenging all kids and pushing all kids to the best of our ability."
"I think that's good instruction, whether you call it outcomes-based education or whether you call it anything under the sun," Azinger said. "You don't let kids off the hook."
Tacha said it shouldn't be difficult to develop an outcomes model that fits the district's goals.
"I think what we're trying to do is build our hybrid," Tacha said. "We want to do what is best for Lawrence, Kansas."
Murray said this morning that he was pleased with Monday night's study session.
"When did this school board last sit down and talk about how kids are educated and how they learn?" Murray said. "The most important thing you should be doing is trying to determine if kids are learning."