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Archive for Saturday, May 27, 1995

BETTER READING, MATH SKILLS TARGET OF QPA

May 27, 1995

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QPA, which will be completely phased into local schools in 1999, uses tests to measure higher-order thinking skills.

The Kansas State Board of Education adopted QPA in 1991.

Quality Performance Accreditation requires Kansas schools to adopt a four-year plan of improvement. The plan must include steps toward improving reading and math, and the school may choose a third target. Schools base their plan on a profile of individual strengths and weaknesses, developed in cooperation with "site councils," made up of teachers, administrators and parents.

The key to QPA is collecting and evaluating performance data, said Sharon Freden, assistant commissioner at the Kansas State Board of Education. Because the system examines student performance, people sometimes call it outcomes-based. However, Freden said, QPA should not be confused with "Outcomes Based Education," a specific reform plan. The state does not mandate that plan, she said.

How are students doing?

The QPA progress report published in April, showed:

Math. Scores improved an average of 2 percent in every grade level tested in the areas of knowledge, problem solving, communications and reasoning.

Reading. Only one year of tests is available. Students showed an adequate understanding of narrative passages but struggled with expository passages.

Writing. Students in fifth- and eighth-grade improved in all areas. Tenth-graders improved in "Ideas and Content" and "Conventions," stayed the same in "Organization" and "Word Choice," and slipped in "Voice" and "Sentence Fluency."

Although showing improvement is the key for accreditation, scores remain well below the state's standards of excellence.

"The standards of excellence are rigorous, and QPA is based on schools improving toward those standards," Freden said.

Data from science and social studies tests, developed by Kansas University's Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation, will be available in coming years.

What's in a test

The testing center at KU developed state assessments in math, communications (reading and writing), social studies and science since 1991.

Students still use No. 2 pencils to fill in bubbles on portions of the tests, but the tests also require students to write essays or complete individual or group projects.

Doug Glasnapp, co-director of the center, said the goal of testing had moved away from measuring minimum competency. Tests now attempt to measure "higher-order thinking skills."

"While there are knowledge components, most of the questions being asked, even in multiple choice, focus on interpretation of information or understanding of information," he said.

The open-ended portions of the tests can't be graded en masse by computer. Teachers at individual schools must know grading standards, and that means training.

"There's no doubt that it takes local resources and time to get these scored," he said.

Local school phases

All schools in Lawrence are slated to seek accreditation under QPA. The schools have been divided into five four-year cycles. The first group completed its cycle this year. The second group will complete its cycle next year, and so on.

Group one: Central Junior High, Prairie Park and Quail Run.

Group two: Woodlawn, Cordley, Wakarusa Valley and East Heights.

Group three: Schwegler, Deerfield, Kennedy, New York, Riverside and Lawrence High School.

Group four: Broken Arrow, Pinckney, Grant, Centennial and Hillcrest.

Group five: West, South and Southwest junior highs, and Lawrence Alternative High School.

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