Lawrence school board reviews work ahead for district and building needs assessments

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Members of the Lawrence school board engage in discussion during their meeting on Monday, June 10, 2024.

Members of the Lawrence school board on Monday had a chance to learn more about the information the school district must gather for a pair of reports analyzing students’ performance on state assessments.

At Monday’s school board meeting, Chief Academic Officer Patrick Kelly gave a presentation on the district’s “Building Needs Assessment” and “State Assessment Review,” two reports Kansas school districts must publish each year, required both by Kansas law and to receive federal funding.

As the Journal-World has reported, school districts are also tasked with answering questions about the barriers that must be overcome for their students to achieve a proficiency above level 2 for grade-level academic expectations on the state assessment, the budget actions it will take to address and remove those barriers, and the amount of time the school board estimates it’ll take to achieve that proficiency.

But as Kelly put it Monday evening, the assessments might be better understood as an examination of the difference between the district’s current reality and its desired future. He read one slide describing the district’s vision for its students verbatim: “Lawrence Public Schools will ensure that students of all races, backgrounds and abilities achieve at high levels, demonstrate proficiency in reading by the third grade and in math by the eighth grade, and graduate on time prepared for success in college and careers.”

“It is not my habit to read slides to anyone, but I think that promise is so important in setting the agenda for our work and our needs assessment that it’s worth reading out loud,” Kelly told board members.

Arriving at that vision is helped by setting measurable goals, Kelly said, such as that 75% of students between kindergarten and 10th grade will score as low-risk or on-track on their spring FastBridge reading assessments.

That’s a goal the district set last year. Kelly was able to show an example of how close to achieving it those students were following the spring 2024 semester, one of a few sets of preliminary state assessment data also shared as part of Monday’s presentation.

On the presented graph, more than 70% of ninth graders scored at low-risk or on-track on the assessment while the other K-10 grades ranged from just over 40% to just over 60%.

photo by: Lawrence school district screenshot

This chart shows student performance on the spring FastBridge reading assessments through the past three years, compared to a target goal of 75% of students scoring as low-risk or on-track.

“What’s important is that we as a district start to look at that data and say ‘Where is our implementation working well?'” Kelly said. “‘Where maybe do we need more professional development? Where are our resources working well?'”

Each building in a district is also asked to write two to three “building goals” to be achieved within the next three years as part of the needs assessment. Kelly said those goals are also supposed to be shared in a professional learning community of their peers — in this case learning communities divvied up by high schools, middle schools and various categories of elementary schools.

Those building goals are due Aug. 1. Then, the needs assessment is to be used by the school board as it begins to consider the district’s next budget later that month and makes its budget decisions in September.

In other business, board members:

* Discussed an ad hoc committee formed by Board President Kelly Jones to address generative artificial intelligence and evolving technologies.

The committee will commence its work in the summer or early fall, depending on the availability of leadership, Jones said; Superintendent Anthony Lewis will decide which district administrator will oversee the committee. Jones said the committee is charged with recommending generative AI education guidelines, practices and policies to the school board.

Those recommendations are supposed to account for educational equity and the potential for such technologies to “enhance and detract from teaching and learning.” They’re also supposed to utilize a balanced approach in leveraging technological capabilities, and “enrich the student and district staff experience while keeping student, staff and district data safe,” and address “embedded bias” in AI technology.

“We left the charge relatively broad so that the committee can come to the board based on the work that they have already done before getting to the committee and then the work that they will do as committee members,” Jones said. “The other reason the charge is somewhat vague is the technology is moving at an extremely fast pace … and most of the recommendations from policymakers who have been following this for boards is to allow for some flexibility within those recommendations.”

Jones said she’d appointed board members G.R. Gordon-Ross — who has a background in technology — and Anne Costello, a member of the district’s policy committee, to serve on the ad hoc committee.

The group will also include a representative for classified/certified administrative employee groups, two community members with content knowledge in education technology and other relevant areas, a representative from each of the district’s two unions and, “if feasible,” students. Jones said if students are logistically unable to serve on the committee, she’s asked that students are consulted before any recommendations come before the school board.

Jones said she’s set a one-year timeline for the committee, which may ultimately be made permanent. She said the aim is for the group to check in with the school board in December, then present some initial recommendations no later than March 2025.


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