Lawrence schools have been successful at Quality Performance Accreditation, but a board member remains convinced that QPA is bunk.
Prairie Park School children have a better handle on mathematics than they did four years ago. Children with disabilities have a better chance of classroom participation at Central Junior High School than they did four years ago.
How do the schools know? Data says so -- data collected as part of the state's embattled accreditation system.
The results are trickling in about how pilot schools are performing four years after they began seeking accreditation under the newest set of state rules, known as Quality Performance Accreditation, or QPA.
What the results mean for children and teachers in Lawrence remains a point of debate, however.
Vicki Weseman, principal at Prairie Park, said QPA forced the whole school to evaluate how math was being taught. Before QPA, individual teachers would evaluate how they were doing for their individual classes, she said.
"In our case, specifically with math, we saw an improvement. What did it do for the kids?" she asked. "Their scores went up."
Put three official-sounding words together, make it an acronym, and you have a new educational buzzword and a new line in the sand for reformers and conservatives to battle over. Such has been the case for QPA. Regardless of what principals in Lawrence are calling good news, the accreditation system remains under fire.
Lawrence school board member Tom Murray called QPA "a make-work project that is not necessary." He made his comments at Monday's school board meeting, after Prairie Park and Central presented their recommendations for accreditation.
He said if he had his term to serve over again, he would have sued to stop the state from mandating the rules. Any improvement in Lawrence schools was the result of the teachers, principals and parents, not the state, he said.
"I strongly believe that in a few years something new will come down the line," he said. "There will be a new panacea for all of this, and the teachers, unfortunately, will again be put through the task of having to adapt to it.
"This is going to result in ... more money, more expense, more paperwork."
Calls for more money and teacher training have already come from schools such as Central, which would like to continue improvements made in the first four years of participation. Teachers and administrators who have been through the first four years have said the work has been frustrating, especially at bigger schools.
Sharon Freden, assistant commissioner at the Kansas State Board of Education, said the early evidence was that children would get a better education under QPA. Based on various assessments, students are demonstrating improvements in mastery of math, reading and most areas of writing.
"Some schools that I talk to say that's our business, to improve student performance. How can you complain about work that relates to that?" she said.
Although the Legislature tinkered with QPA last session, Freden said legislators did nothing to indicate to her that the system would be replaced anytime soon.
As more schools get through the first four years, the fewer headaches the new system will cause, she said. The three Lawrence schools volunteered to pilot the program.
"The system was harder for them than it will be for subsequent schools because pilot schools helped us develop the system," she said.
Weseman agreed with Murray that Lawrence schools could improve without QPA, and that they had been working on their own continuous improvement plans.
The difference, she said, was that QPA required the schools to look at student achievement data rather than surveys about how people felt about their schools. The change translated into more work, but had its payoff.
"We saw improvements in three measures of math performance," she said. "To me, that's worth the effort that we put in."