Kansas education officials have set standards that all school and students are expected to meet. The challenge for districts it to find policies to reach those goals.
Editor's note: This is the first in a five-part series of stories outlining the opinions of candidates about issues they will face if elected to the Lawrence school board. The seven candidates are vying for four positions. Six of the seven are new to the school board arena. Incumbent Mary Loveland is seeking her fourth term. Elections will be held April 6.
By JL Watson
The bar has been set, and schools across the state are struggling to reach it.
When the Kansas State Board of Education developed the Standards of Excellence for Kansas Assessments in December 1994, they wanted schools that reached the goal to know they had done something out of the ordinary.
"These standards are high," said Dale Dennis, deputy commissioner with the Kansas State Board of Education. "We have high expectations and that's one reason why you'll see our ACT scores are better than the rest of the country."
The Standards of Excellence originally applied to reading, writing and math, but new standards are being developed for science and social science for the 2001-2002 school year.
All public schools are working toward meeting the standards. Currently fewer than 5 percent of all Kansas schools meet the standards.
Six Lawrence schools are at the Standard of Excellence in Writing: Grant School, Quail Run School, Riverside School, Sunset Hill School, Wakarusa Valley School and Southwest Junior High.
Pinckney School is at the Standard of Excellence in Reading.
Steve Adams, team leader for school improvement and accreditation for the Kansas State Board of Education, said that as time goes on more and more schools will strive to reach the goals set by the state board.
"Probably within the short-term, a decade or so, I don't think we'll see a lot of schools reaching the Standards of Excellence, but we will see more schools making progress," he said. "It gives them something to shoot for."
Lawrence schools are on target in reaching those goals, said Sandee Crowther, division director of evaluation and standards for the Lawrence school district.
"What each school is looking at is: Are they better than the year before?" she said.
The Journal-World asked candidates what they would do to raise the state assessment test scores throughout the school district.
A recent curriculum audit should help administrators separate the wheat from the chaff, school board candidate Cille King said.
"The audit will be a valuable source (for determining) how to improve Lawrence schools," she said. "Another thing is looking at teachers who aren't fitting in to the system. I think most of our teachers are excellent, but some aren't fitting in. I'd like to see the standards for teachers, too."
King said the audit should reveal keys to improving local school curricula so that student test schools continue to rise.
"I'm also interested in looking at other schools and other states to know how they've been successful," she said.
Standards of Excellence start with teachers, Scott Morgan said.
And the teachers need more than what they're getting now.
"I think we can do nothing better than give teachers the resources they need to teach kids," he said. "Not just money, but time. We put more and more demands on them, and testing is taking away class time for reading, writing and math, whether it's at the elementary level or calculus in high school."
Morgan said he's glad the state goals are high; "I think they're appropriate," he said. But students at the fourth- and eighth-grade levels are being tested too extensively, something that Morgan would like to see changed.
"We have state, district and national tests," he said. "Why can't we test the same thing? We might be able to find a common test to minimize the number of days to take the tests."
Collaboration time -- a weekly planning time for teachers -- has helped teachers better utilize their time in arranging required tests and helping students achieve higher scores, Morgan said.
"Much of what I like about collaboration time is that it allows teachers to spend more time with my kids and not go off to meetings," he said. "What we're really trying to do is what we've been doing for thousands of years. Each generation is trying to help the next generation be smarter than it was."
Carmela Sibley has run her campaign on a return to the "3 R's" -- Reason, Responsibility and Results.
They all tie together to produce a higher level of learning from students, she said.
"We need to push a stronger curriculum in basic learning," she said. "I don't want to teach kids what to think, but how to learn."
Learning basic skills early on is the tool for higher achievement, Sibley said.
"Phonics have gone out the window. And math, we need to teach that one and one is two, not new math, not math with calculators. You pull the plug and what have you got?"
Too many students today are spoon-fed their educations, Sibley said.
"We're lacking in basic knowledge where you start at the bottom and work your way up," she said. "We need to use computers as a tool, not a crutch."
John P. "Jack" Davidson
Jack Davidson, who ran for the State Board of Education in 1998, sat in on state meetings on the upcoming Standards of Excellence.
The key to success is to put the emphasis on core classes, he said.
"I'm very concerned about the mathematical curriculum," he said. "I'm troubled that reading doesn't come up to other standards. We need to put a great deal more emphasis on those subjects."
Starting young will help students achieve higher scores in later years, Davidson said.
"A good first-grade teacher knows what children need help by the end of the year," he said. "We need to move in in the second grade to help those students."
Davidson said he is also concerned about student exposure to history.
"I think there's a lack of understanding there, to the point that some students don't know about where the Civil War took place," he said. "With regard to the science and social science standards, we need to make sure the curriculum meets the state standards, and then teach to those standards."
Mary Loveland wants to make the most of what the district has.
And it has a lot to help students achieve their fullest potential, she said.
"You do your best to make sure that the elements of good instruction are available to students: a well-prepared staff, and adequate print and other instructional materials."
Loveland said she is excited about the Reading Initiatives currently being developed throughout the district, as well as a pilot program, the Literacy Learning Network, that will allow teachers to work with students in reading and writing in new ways.
"You continue to encourage students and staff to achieve at a high level, with these Standards (of Excellence) as a goal, and if you're successful, to maintain."
Getting back to basics will help students achieve higher scores, Jeff Morrow believes.
And he believes the early grades are the building blocks for a strong educational experience.
"Our curriculum should evidence clear, high standards and expectations," Morrow said. "In the early years, we should focus specific attention on reading, writing and basic math skills. As the curriculum becomes more challenging, all students should be equipped to build from this solid foundation."
The Lawrence school district has a high level of parental involvement in the classroom, Morrow said.
"We should take maximum advantage of this extra help," he said. "Care should be taken to identify any difficulties a child may be having, and action should be taken immediately to provide necessary resources to assist that child in attaining district grade-level standards. Effort should be made to incorporate reading, writing and math skills in every subject matter, such as science or social studies. Students should be held accountable for correct application of basic skills across all curriculum."
For Sue Morgan, setting high standards for the Lawrence school district is of paramount importance in reaching success.
Reaching those high goals can be achieved through making connections, she said.
"The curriculum audit we've just gone through should be addressing issues directly related to this," Morgan said. "The state standards are connected to initiatives they've required for the last five years.
"The connection between what we're teaching and what's being tested is a significant factor in trying to make those connections. We ought to have the district curriculum have the same materials so our kids are learning the same material in math whether they're in third grade at Pinckney or Wakarusa or Deerfield."
Informing teachers exactly what they are expected to teach will also help students achieve high test scores, Morgan said.
"As a district we should try to move all of our schools toward a curriculum aligned with assessments," she said.
-- JL Watson's phone message number is 832-7145. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.