Highlights of the March State Board of Education Meeting
Kathy Toelkes, Director of Communications, 785-296-4876
TOPEKA – Kansas State Board of Education members expressed frustration during their monthly meeting March 13 in Topeka over a recent decision by the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) not to grant in full requests from three Kansas school districts for waivers from some of the assessment requirements in the federal No Child Left Behind legislation. The Board voted to provide a letter of support to accompany a request to appeal the USDOE’s decision.
The waiver requests were submitted by the McPherson School District, USD 418; Kansas City Kansas Public Schools, USD 500; and the Clifton-Clyde School District, USD 224. The McPherson District sought an extension of the waiver it was granted on a pilot basis for the 2010-2011 school year. That waiver allowed the district to use the ACT EXPLORE exam in place of state assessments for accountability purposes in grades 6-8, and the ACT exam in high school. The Kansas City Kansas and Clifton-Clyde school districts made similar requests, except each of those school districts also asked to be able to use the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) exam for grades 3-7 in Kansas City Kansas Public Schools and in grades 3-5 in Clifton-Clyde.
The decision from the USDOE, received by the Kansas State Department of Education on March 9, grants the districts’ requests to use the ACT exam for accountability at the high school level, and to use the ACT EXPLORE at the eighth grade. However, it did not approve the use of the EXPLORE exam for grades 6 and 7, nor the use of the MAP exam.
Board members expressed frustration with what they viewed as the intrusion of the federal government into decisions that they believe belong at the state and local level. While many members voiced their support for simply allowing the school districts to pursue their proposed accountability plans despite the USDOE decision, the majority did not want to risk the loss of federal Title I funding for those schools should they be found not to be in compliance with USDOE requirements. The Board voted to take a more diplomatic approach to the matter by strongly voicing its support for appeals of the decision being sought by the three districts, and ensuring that all members of the State’s congressional delegation, the Governor and all members of the State Legislature were aware of the situation.
Board members also voted to extend the testing window for state assessments by two weeks should the appeals to the USDOE be denied. The testing window is scheduled to close April 20, which would provide little time for the Kansas City Kansas school district to test all of its students in grades 3-7. If extended, the testing window would close May 4.
In other business, State Board members received an update on data related to instances of seclusion used with students with disabilities during the 2010-11 school year. Dr. Ann Matthews, chair of the Special Education Advisory Council (SEAC), addressed a report being circulated by the National Disability Rights Network that profiles instances when children were harmed during instances of seclusion or restraint at schools around the country. Matthews reminded Board members that the Emergency Safety Interventions Guidelines adopted by the Board in June 2011 address all of the situations highlighted in that report. The Kansas guidelines stipulate that seclusion and restraint be used only in an emergency or safety situation or within the context of the Individual Education Plan (IEP) process, which means the specific instances that might warrant seclusion or restraint, and how that will occur, have been agreed to by parents and others involved in the IEP process.
Colleen Riley, director of the Special Education Services team at KSDE, shared with Board members that the changes made to the state’s guidelines last June were improvements from the 2007 version of the guidelines, however there is still room to make additional improvements to the guidelines. In reference to legislation being considered at the state level that would put the guidelines into law, Riley shared her opinion that the best way to arrive at improvements was through a process that sought recommendations from the Board and also relied on input and recommendations from SEAC.
Board members voted earlier in the meeting to inform the Senate Education Committee that the State Board would be taking under consideration concerns that surfaced during discussion of the legislation related to seclusion and restraint and would be asking SEAC to make recommendations on the sufficiency of the current guidelines and whether they should be become regulations. The Board plans to make that determination at their meeting in April.
In other action, the Board voted to support legislation before the Senate and the House that requires school districts to provide support for students from their district who attend the Kansas State School for the Blind and the Kansas State School for the Deaf. The support would be in the form of funds for the paraprofessionals needed to work with those students. Board members also voted not to support legislation in the House that would require a course in personal financial literacy for graduation from Kansas high schools. The State Board already requires that personal financial literacy be offered, but it can be integrated into instruction in other courses and is not a graduation requirement, although some districts do require it for graduation. A number of Board members expressed concerns over requiring schools to offer an additional course, without providing additional funding; others thought the decision was one best left to local school districts. Board member Walt Chappell voted against the motion to oppose the legislation, indicating that in his opinion the addition of the course as a graduation requirement did not have to cost the districts additional funds and that a graduation requirement would ensure students left high school with appropriate personal financial literacy skills.
Also in March, Board members heard from local schools and districts about the use of Multi-Tier System of Supports (MTSS), and about the unique learning needs of middle school students. They also received an update on work toward developing a comprehensive professional learning system in Kansas.
In other matters, the Board received an update on the progress of developing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Kansas is one of 26 lead states working with Achieve, an education reform non-profit organization, to develop the science standards. Matt Krehbiel, education program consultant for science at KSDE, shared with Board members that the first public draft of the standards was expected in April, and he urged Board members and anyone who wanted to provide feedback on the public draft to first review the Framework for K-12 Science Education, which is the document that provides direction and guidance to the standards writing committee. A link to a free download of the Framework can be found on the science page on the KSDE website.
Marcel Harmon, a scientist and engineer with a high-performance building firm in Overland Park who serves as a member of the Kansas review committee for the NGSS, shared with Board members his perceptions of the writing and review process. Harmon told the Board that as a representative from business and industry, he is excited about the NGSS process. He said those in the science and engineering fields have been troubled by the performance of U.S. students in science and technology subjects as compared to their counterparts in other countries, and by the lack of interest American students appear to have in science fields. He is encouraged by the effort to strengthen standards in science for U.S. students and by the process being used to develop the standards.
The next State Board of Education meeting is scheduled for April 17 in Topeka and April 18 when the Board will visit the Kansas State School for the Deaf and the Kansas State School for the Blind.