Archive for Monday, August 2, 2010

‘New path’ sought for student assessments

August 2, 2010


The Kansas State Board of Education is all for letting one of its school districts opt out of the No Child Left Behind testing standards, in favor of ones based on national ACT exams they consider better for preparing students for college and careers.

Report cards

The latest results from state assessments for schools in the Lawrence school district are set to be discussed Aug. 9 by members of the Lawrence school board.

Such information is used to guide decisions about finances, personnel and other issues, said Diane DeBacker, interim Kansas education commissioner. Results in schools’ Adequate Yearly Progress reports are important for many people across the state, including those deciding where they want to live within particular communities.

“They may not know what the ‘A’ or the ‘Y’ or the ‘P’ stand for, but they know it is really the schools’ report card,” DeBacker said. “It’s a big deal.”

Soon it’ll be up to the federal government to decide whether that’s OK.

The McPherson school district is preparing to ask the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver from the pervasive No Child Left Behind requirements, ones that have forced school districts across Kansas and the country to assess their students using standardized tests in reading, math and other basic subjects.

While other states and districts have sought and received exemptions to certain aspects of the federal legislation, never before has a Kansas district pushed to choose its own standards. And failing to comply with standards can cost states and districts federal money for education.

In case anyone’s wondering what’s at stake: Kansas schools received $413.6 million from Washington in 2008-09, enough to cover 7.3 percent of the state’s education bills.

“It’s a big deal in that they’re willing to blaze a new path,” said Diane DeBacker, the state’s interim education commissioner, regarding McPherson’s efforts. “Other school districts are looking now and saying, ‘If McPherson can do it, maybe we can.’

“What everybody else is doing in a traditional manner, they’re taking a more innovative approach. They’re sticking their necks out there, and everybody else is waiting to see what happens.”

In Lawrence, educators and administrators are following the McPherson district’s drive to transition to the ACT model.

Rick Doll, superintendent of Lawrence public schools, admits being frustrated with the limits imposed by No Child Left Behind — especially when it comes to the inevitable “narrowing” of curriculum, moves designed to give students the best chances of scoring well on the annual tests.

But the Obama administration will be expected to revise the federal legislation next year, and those changes could offer a more effective and lasting solution than simply “switching tests,” Doll said. Students, for example, could be tested once in the beginning of the school year and again at the end, to show what they’ve learned and where they’re headed.

“I think it’s interesting what McPherson’s doing, but basically what they’re doing is just substituting the ACT for the Kansas assessment test,” said Doll, who once worked as an assistant superintendent in the McPherson district. “I’d like to move to a growth model, so we change the paradigm of testing so that it’s not a one-point-in-time test. It should be an assessment model that shows growth, or lack of growth.”

The McPherson district’s plan — known as “Citizenship, College and Career Ready,” or C3 — came together during the past year. The district has 2,400 students north of Hutchinson in south central Kansas.

Teachers, administrators, business leaders and others in the district agreed that they wanted their students to graduate with an ability to succeed in college and in their chosen careers.

That would mean finding a different way to assess success, said Randy Watson, superintendent of McPherson public schools. The evidence: While McPherson eighth-graders last year achieved the highest standard on state reading assessments that comply with No Child Left Behind, only 43 percent of those same students qualified as on track to be “ready for college” as determined by the reading portion of the ACT Explore test.

Acing a state assessment test shouldn’t be the goal, Watson said. Succeeding in college or a career should be.

“We’re working really hard, but we’re working in the wrong place,” Watson said. “We’re in the forest, chopping down trees, but we’re in the wrong forest. We’re over here measuring (standards for state assessments), but it’s not something that leads to anything.

“We’re looking for a higher standard.”

State support

The district took its plan to Topeka, and on June 8 presented it to the Kansas State Board of Education.

Board members listened intently to the process, methods and goals of the program, and offered their personal and professional support. While members did not take a formal vote, DeBacker said, they did indicate a willingness to adjust accreditation rules in support of the plan.

They also would assist the district in seeking approval in Washington.

“If there’s anytime there’s a likelihood this could happen, it’s now,” DeBacker said.

McPherson officials plan to send in their application sometime this fall. The district already will be paying to have its older students take various ACT tests this fall; the hope is that students in grades 6 through 12 won’t need to take state assessments come spring.

DeBacker will be waiting to see whether her department might be able to build off the McPherson district’s plan.

“We know, under the (Obama) reauthorization, we will have another way of measuring student success,” DeBacker said. “If this works, why not take this approach across the state?”


Paul R Getto 3 years, 8 months ago

KSManimal says… "Let's pretend for a minute that NCLB wasn't an insidious plan to destroy public education and open the market to for-profit charter school operators...."

B-I-N-G-O-! You win the prize. The efforts to undermine public schools date back to 1983, the Nation at 'Risk' and the Reagan administration. GW's efforts were just the latest iteration. Once the commies fell in the good old USSR, the Radical Religious Right needed a new boogie man. They settled on the public schools as their target.


RATM 3 years, 8 months ago

Privatize all schools and this wont be a problem.


weeslicket 3 years, 8 months ago

if you want, i'll give you a description of the differences between in-puts based models, and out-comes based models. it's informative, but very very boring.

anywhos, right now in kansas and in the us, we have an outcomes view of the educational world. so, let me posit the following link for you to the kansas standards: (click on any subject, peruse by grade level, etc)

agree with these standards, disagree with them, dabble about in them as you might. but, at lease please argue from factual knowledge.


Flap Doodle 3 years, 8 months ago

The current regime will want students to show willingness to inform on their parents for passing along "fishy" information. The ability to sing the "mmm, mmm, mmm" song will also be required.


coldplay 3 years, 8 months ago

Ahhh, Ricky Doll and Company have been wowed by the snazzy sales pitch by NWEA or whomever while the McPherson cat has been similarly hooked by the ACT sales rep about how well their respective commercial testing products correlate to KS content standards.

Hey Ricky....How about we measure growth by bowling scores at the beginning and end of the school year. Weight gain? Shoe size? It's called validity, Ricky. Probably didn't ever hear about that in the tiny little district you came from, but it's a rather big--and fundamental--idea. People who claim that testing leads to curricular reductionism don't understand the concept of validity. These are usually the same people who fall for snazzy sales pitches by commercial testing providers about how well their product is aligned to state and district standards. It's amazing!! Every commercially available testing product is aligned incredibly closely to every district and state assessment! It's a miracle!

The funny thing is that KS assessment scores correlate very high with scores on the MAP test or the ACT Explorer test, or any other commercial product that claims to measure growth or student learning isn't doing anything different than the KS assessments. Different score reports, different score scales...but same meaning.


KSManimal 3 years, 8 months ago

Let's pretend for a minute that NCLB wasn't an insidious plan to destroy public education and open the market to for-profit charter school operators....

How can the federal gov't say "this is so important to do, we're going to make it law"; and then promptly fail to fund the law? I'd love to see a clause in the revised ESEA stating that all 50 states are exempt from any requirements within the law in the event that the federal government fails to provide full funding for it. Unfunded mandates are either 1) simple political stunts from those who don't care about education; or 2) deliberate attempts to undermine the success of public schools in order to clear the way for privatization.

That being said, the Bush-era revisions of ESEA - placing 100% of the blame for society's problems on schools & teachers, while mandating statistically-impossible perfection by 2014.........Google "adequate yearly diddily poop" for a reality check.


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cato_the_elder 3 years, 8 months ago

So public educators in Kansas are awaiting "permission from the Obama administration" to change their standards? Good grief, folks, what ever happened to local control over public education? The only reason Bush's worst idea, "No Child Left Behind," ever got inflicted on public education in the first place was the fact that since the Eisenhower administration, the federal government has gradually taken over control of public education in America - and with what results? The federal Department of Education should either be abolished or strictly limited to administering direct aid grants to states, with the states doing the same for local school districts. No one in Washington ever should have been given the right to tell Lawrencians how to educate their children, period. Too entrenched ever to change? After close to two years of Obama, has the American public finally awakened to what politicians are doing to cement the role of Washington as overseer of all aspects of our lives? Let's see what happens after November.


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