Two members of the Kansas Board of Education on Tuesday visited Lawrence with a simple message for parents: Don't panic.
Bill Wagnon and Janet Waugh, Democrats who share representation of Douglas County on the board, said results of new student testing mandated by the federal education law, known as No Child Left Behind, would likely catch parents off guard.
The law requires schools to be placed "on improvement" lists for not raising scores on math and reading exams. It's possible schools or districts thought to be among the best in a community will land on the list.
"'On improvement' doesn't prove you've got a failed school," said Wagnon, of Topeka, during a visit to the Journal-World.
He said inclusion on the list was simply a sign the school must redirect resources to improve performance of specific students.
If people don't respond with restraint to the reports, Wagnon said, opponents of public education could abuse test-score information to undermine schools and districts in Kansas.
"It will play into the hands of cultural warriors who are against public education," he said.
Waugh, of Kansas City, Kan., said she supported the philosophy of the federal law, but she questioned how all students in the country could meet the target of proficiency in reading and math by 2014. It will require significant new investment by the state or federal governments, she said.
"We believe in this, but it's frightening to me to think how are we going to do this if we don't have the funding," she said.
An entire school can be put on the list if the student body scores below the annually rising goal in reading and math. Or a subgroup of students -- low-income, minority, non-English speaker, disabled -- can get a school on the list by not making adequate yearly progress toward proficiency in the two subjects.
Andy Tompkins, state education commissioner, said the state's roster of schools not living up to standards embraced by No Child Left Behind wouldn't inflate much right away.
It takes two years of weak performance to place a school on the list, he said.
About 50 of the state's 1,600 public and private schools are "on improvement." None are in the Lawrence district. So far, only schools that receive special funding for remedial instruction in math and reading have been subjected to the new standards.
But starting this year, all schools will be measured against guidelines of No Child Left Behind. Many more schools -- even entire districts -- probably will be added to the list, Tompkins said.