Topeka Lawrence school district Superintendent Rick Doll urged the Kansas State Board of Education on Tuesday to stand behind the new Common Core standards, despite opposition from many legislators.
But he cautioned them about relying too heavily on end-of-year tests that measure how well students have learned the content in those standards.
"The new standards, the curricular standards, the Kansas College and Career Ready Standards, are rigorous standards and you need to know they are widely accepted by educators," Doll said. "Trust me, in Lawrence if they weren't, they would tell me. They tell me things all the time."
"There is no evidence," Doll went on to say, "that a legislature setting standards, and getting involved in setting curricular standards, has ever been a good idea. That is your responsibility. You have our support. I hope you hang in there for us because we need you on that one."
Doll gave his remarks while being recognized as the 2014 Kansas Superintendent of the Year, an award that was officially announced last month by the Kansas School Superintendents Association. Each year, the state board recognizes the superintendent, principals and teachers of the year, and gives them time on the agenda to address the board and talk about things that have helped them achieve success.
Doll talked at length about the Lawrence school district's focus on three major goals: excellence; equity and engagement, saying the focus on those goals have helped the district narrow achievement gaps between racial and economic subgroups of students.
In particular, he noted the district's success in narrowing the gap in graduation rates, a subject he reported about to the Lawrence school board Monday night.
From 2009 to 2013, Doll said, the gap in graduation rates between the highest-achieving and lowest-achieving subgroups had been cut in half, from roughly a 40 percentage point gap, to what is now only a 20 point gap.
"I would suggest that our laser-like focus on excellence and equity, with specific kinds of action that run from our board goals down to our school improvement plan, is the big reason why we've been able to make some gains," Doll said.
Meanwhile, Doll said that while testing students and gathering data is important, he said he thinks the state puts too much emphasis on testing, especially the end-of-year tests that are used to judge how well schools — and now, even teachers — are performing.
"We are testing too much and for the wrong reasons," Doll said.
"Certainly I know that summative tests at the end of all this — on a yearly basis or however the state decides to do it — is important," he said. "But quite honestly, we can sample assess kids and get a feel for where we're going. We don't need to test every kid every year in every subject in a summative way to get those results."
Doll also questioned some recent actions by the state board, such as requiring all teachers to be fingerprinted to renew their licenses, and adoption of a teachers "code of conduct," as having a negative impact on teacher morale.